July 11, 2014

Zach Hillesland ’09

On the night before The Basketball Tournament final, near the end of our meal in a dark and half-filled Boston steakhouse, I wondered if Jesus and his twelve disciples could have possibly had as much fun as Coach Brey and his dozen Domers.

We had one clear advantage, being that the only Judas identified at our Last Supper was the waiter who, upon being asked for a bottle of house red wine, brought us the top of the line offering, and hoped we wouldn’t notice. As far as Judases go, this was somewhat of a victimless crime, but a constant reminder to always keep your head on a swivel, even when in extraordinarily good company.

Now over the course of our Notre Dame careers, we’d all shared in hundreds of team meals, but this meal was different for one major reason. Back in the day there was always a coaches’ table and a kids’ table, and while the kids’ table allows for a certain level of freedom and hopefully a maximum number of crayons, it’s always a big day when you graduate and join the adults. Having Coach Brey (Mike!) situated in the middle of all of us changed the entire ebb and flow of conversation, and also kept us from mixing all the condiments together and paying someone to eat it.

Sitting around that table, it was hard to fight off preemptive nostalgia, as it’s likely that that group will never be assembled in such a way again – and just what a blessing it was for us to have that opportunity in the first place. Luke Harangody and Tim Abromaitis flew in for the weekend and joined us, which is just an amazing testament to the type of guys that Coach Brey has successfully recruited over the course of more than a decade.

As beverages poured in, the stories poured out, and I eventually got to a happy place where I couldn’t stop saying, “this is the best night I’ve ever had,” which was received with equal amounts of laughter and pity. As far as the actual stories, there are some that are impossible to remember, others that are impossible to print, but with the game less than twenty-four hours away, it felt like we had already won something.

Friday quickly became Saturday and Saturday became just like any other game day. Breakfast, shoot-around, lunch, nap… Perhaps the greatest part about game day preparation is that you’ll rarely ever see a dozen grown men so concerned about naptime.

When we arrived at the gym, fed and rested, it didn’t take long to realize that we were indeed in enemy territory. Purple “Team Barstool” shirts cloaked a significant portion of the stands, and their section behaved exactly like you’d expect a student section to behave. When you stop playing basketball, you forget that heckling is a thing that people actually choose to do.

Our first half wasn’t great. Barstool had the crowd, the refs got off to a rough start, and some of our nervousness and jitters manifested itself as teammates chirping at each other in less than ideal fashion. We missed shots we usually make, took some we usually don’t, but were able to feed Tyrone Nash just enough to keep us close.

It was at this point that the reality of the game started to really come into focus. In less then an hour, we’ll know whether or not we’re all millionaires. OK, so obviously not millionaires, but closer!

As the second half got underway, it was evident that we had calmed down. We started making the extra pass, Ryan Ayers hit nearly every shot he took, Tyrone continued to dominate, and everyone stepped up and made necessary plays. We finally realized that we were a team playing against a group of individuals. We were still Notre Dame.

The biggest play of the game came with a minute and a half left, when our floor general Chris Thomas picked the pocket of Andre Barret, dove on the ground for the loose ball, then passed to Rob Kurz who passed to Russell Carter who passed to Ryan Ayers, who then tried to dunk on not just Dahntay Jones, but the entire city of Boston. Jones was forced to foul and Ryan hit two free throws, and soon thereafter we sealed the deal.

The moment we knew we had won the game is best summed up by Ryan Ayers in this video. (We won. WE WON! OK, just be cool, just be cool, relax… No, forget that, WE WON!!!)

The first thing we did to celebrate was head up to the conference room and eat leftover Portobello sandwiches as the TBT commissioners signed and handed out our individual checks. A cold Portobello sandwich never tasted so good.

We arranged to have a reception at our hotel’s restaurant, and I couldn’t help but thinking, “I’m going to spend all of this money tonight.” Luckily for all of us, Rob Kurz’s wife Mary brought a bottle of bubbly from home, so that helped cut down the cost of celebration. After the reception, different groups went different places, some to bed, some to bars, some to a nearby CVS to replace his sister’s broken shoe with a pair of purple sandals.

After we all returned home, we found a video clip from the game, and at the beginning of the clip there’s an inside look into Team Barstool’s pregame huddle. I don’t remember the exact words and am paraphrasing, but one of their players, in a disparaging tone, said, “We got this. This game is ours. These guys went to Notre Dame.” These guys went to Notre Dame.

Yes, we did go to Notre Dame. We still do.