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A reflection on a lifetime of Xavier fanhood

By: Andrew Koch ~Editor-in-Chief~ March 17, 2007, Lexington, Ky.: Nine-seed Xavier is nine seconds away from upsetting No. 1 Ohio State, a favorite to win the NCAA tournament. After dominating the second half, the Musketeers are scrambling to hold on to a 3-point lead. Buckeye standout senior center Greg Oden has just fouled out, and Xavier senior forward Justin Cage steps up to the line to shoot two free throws. Cage banks the first to make the score 62-59, Xavier.

One more free throw and Ohio State has just nine seconds to make up two possessions without its star Oden. One more free throw and the Musketeers upset former Xavier coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes to reach the Sweet Sixteen for just the third time in the school’s history. Cage takes the shot, and the crowd at Rupp Arena freezes. The ball rattles around the rim, spinning for a second that might have lasted forever … and rolls out.

Ohio State grabs the rebound, charges down the court and senior guard Ron Lewis sinks a deep three to send the game into overtime. In extra time, the fatigued Xavier team loses by seven. Ohio State would go on to play in the national championship game, while Xavier was boarding the bus back to Cincinnati. (My dad and I gape at each other in the nosebleeds, stunned into silence.)

Such is the life of a Xavier fan. In the grand tradition of Cincinnati-based sports, the Xavier men’s basketball team has had more than its fair share of heart-wrenching, “shoulda-woulda-coulda” games: a narrow three-point Elite Eight loss to Duke in 2004, the aforementioned second round loss to Ohio State in 2007, a double-overtime Sweet Sixteen loss to Kansas State in 2010 and the still-stinging First Four loss to North Carolina State earlier this year.

The Xavier fandom has not always been easy to defend. Like any other, the team has had its head-scratching losses and its off years (the missing the postseason in the 2012-13 season comes to mind). And what’s more, the events of the Crosstown Shootout in 2011 damaged Xavier’s reputation and competitive edge both on and off the court, nearly blighting a promising landmark year for the program. And as a proud Xavier fan, that day also led to many awkward, prying questions at Christmas dinner from my majority-Bearcat extended family.

But despite its setbacks, the program’s success since 2000 makes one thing clear: Xavier always seems to be on the verge of breaking out, with each season bringing promises that “this is our year.” It’s been my great pleasure to watch the Musketeers shake off their “mid-major” label.

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Editor-in-Chief Andrew Koch, then 5, prepares for a Xavier basketball game with his father Peter (‘84) in 1998

I have a lot to be proud of as a lifelong Musketeers fan. While my friends go on about North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Florida, my heart has always belonged to the Muskies. From my first Xavier game at age 5 to yearly road trips with my dad to NCAA tournaments to playing courtside at Madison Square Garden with the Xavier Pep Band, I’ve stuck with my Musketeers through it all. Even now, at least one of my March Madness brackets always has Xavier winning it all.

And to some degree, my fanboying is justified. After all, the club has had its victories in addition to its heartbreakers: the team’s first trip to the Elite Eight in 2004 (known as “the Run”) with another to follow in 2008, upsets against one-seed (the previously-unbeaten St. Joseph in 2004 and rival Cincinnati in 1996 and 1999) and a top-10 ranking team in 2011.

The program has also produced notable NBA players (David West) and rising stars (Jordan Crawford, Semaj Christon), plus alumni who have gone on to have successful careers in professional leagues overseas (Romain Sato, Lionel Chalmers, Justin Doellman). Lifelong Xavier fans will remember former coaches, too, that have had successful careers upon leaving Xavier, including Skip Prosser at Wake Forest, Matta at Ohio State and Sean Miller at Arizona.

I remember hearing all of those names growing up and watching them play and coach and prove that Xavier Musketeers basketball is a force to be reckoned with. And it’s that history – more so than any preseason projections or number of Final Four appearances – that makes me a Xavier fan. Xavier basketball has always been a staple in my family’s life, and I’ll always bleed navy blue.

While the Musketeers can break my heart – I may have even shed a tear after the 2004 heart-wrenching loss to Duke that kept Xavier from its first trip to the Final Four – I keep coming back to Cintas each year with high hopes and an “X-Men” hat. Through the highs and the lows, Xavier basketball is a huge part of me, and I can’t wait to see the Muskies back in action one last time as a student.

As they say, “this is our year.”