By Jon Hood (follow on Twitter)
Without wasting any time, let's just get right into it.
Tuesday night was a special experience for me. Arriving here five years ago at basically the same time Coach Cal did and finally ending my college career at Rupp was - I wouldn't say emotional - but very special for me. It brought back a lot of memories.
Yesterday was the first time when it really hit me that Senior Night was the last time I was going to be able to wear the white jersey at home. It hit me walking from class to shoot-around that this was the last shoot-around at home. I started thinking about all the guys I've played with over the years and who would have been there with me Senior Night had they stuck around. I thought about who would have been with me had I stayed four years and who would have been with me this year - guys like Brandon and Terrence.
I always get to Rupp early to get some shots up, but Tuesday was even more special for me because my dad was there. Dad came just because he's never seen me shoot before the games like that and warm up and then go out and play. It was really special having him there with me. It was almost like the old days where we would spend time together in an empty gym. It was just the lights, an empty arena, me and Dad again. That really meant a lot to me that he was there and that he could come down on the floor and rebound for me for a little bit.
Being a Kentucky kid, born and raised, the Senior Night ceremonies were really, really special for me. Being able to walk out through the hoop - through my face basically - onto the court and sharing that moment with my family, Jarrod - one of my best friends - and his family, it makes it all the more special. And then to hear "My Old Kentucky Home" played by a couple of buddies of mine and listen to them put their own little twist on it made it unforgettable.
Once we started going through warm-ups, I tried to keep everything the same, just messing with little kids in the crowd, tossing them the ball, throwing it back to them and then shooting -- try to get them an assist. That's something I've always done for a couple years. It was just going through warm-ups like it was the last time that I was going to be able to do it, just having as much as fun as I could with the crowd and with Jarrod.
Pregame intros were certainly different for me because I hadn't started a game in five years. It's really fun to hear your name called and get up and hear the crowd go crazy for you. You're hitting everybody on the way out and you get to the huddle and we do our little swaying motion, whatever it is, and then it's sit back down in front of Coach one more time, get the final instructions and go play.
When we went over to the huddle for our final talk with Cal, it was nerve-wracking because it was all new to me. It brought all the anxiety back. I had to tell myself, "OK, calm down, take deep breaths, you'll be OK, just play like you know how and shoot when you're open."
I'm glad one of my AAU buddies was on the other team because he actually calmed me down a little bit. Before the game started we walked out to the jump ball circle and Levi Randolph, who played with me with the Nashville Celtics, was standing right next to me. He looked at me, smiled, just kind of shook his head and said, "You've been here forever. Congrats." He said, "We've come a long way since playing in Nashville, haven't we?' I said, "Yeah," and we joked for a little bit while we were waiting for the TV guys to say it was OK to play.
The next thing you know, we went out and I found myself in the corner open for 3. I'm not one to run away from or shy away from an open shot, so I took it. It felt good when it left my hand and I knocked it down. I heard the crowd go nuts and everyone going crazy, but you don't really realize what's going on in a moment like that. I tried to block out how big the night was while I was in there and just tried to make it a game and just tried to have as much fun as possible. That's what the game's all about is having fun. If you don't have fun, there's no reason to play.
Everybody has something different they do when they hit a 3 these days. Carmelo taps the 3 to his head and we used to do the 3 goggles, but it's different this year. I told Jarrod I was going to do something different if I got the opportunity so I did my little holster motion. After I did it, I looked at him as we're running back down the court and he gives me one little quick glance, smiles and shakes his head. And then we just started playing. I thought the second and third ones that I took were also going to go down, too. They felt good when they left my hand; I just left them a little bit short.
It's a shame my last in-game shot in Rupp Arena never counted when they called my 3-pointer off because of a shot-clock violation. When I put that shot up, I thought it was going to him the rim, but then it bounced off the backboard and went straight in. I thought I made it and then the ref that was standing right next to me comes in waving it off like it was a huge call.
I'm sure you've all seen pictures of me going crazy. I wanted them to check the monitor because there was no doubt about it: It left my hand well before time expired. I've gotten four or five pictures today of different angles of it with the clock in the background and the space in between my fingertips and the ball. But that's part of the game. It's human error so you've just got to live with it.
Obviously we needed that win after losing two in a row. We've only lost two in a row a few times in my five-year career here, so we were kind of rattled Tuesday night. We just needed to pick it up and needed to get a win under our belt so we could have some confidence.
Confidence is the reason why I think we're missing some shots, which happens sometimes with young guys. When you come in as a shooter and scorer, you have to have no conscience. You have to be able to forget about the last one you made and go make your next six. If you've missed 12 in a row, you have to be able to have that mindset to where you go crazy and you hit your next 40. That has to be what you think about. And some guys naturally have that; some guys don't. I think our guys do and will continue develop it over time.
I know there have been some doubts about us lately, but we are confident that we can still do this. We just have to go out and do it. It's not on anybody but us. We're perfectly capable. It's just basketball. It's what we've done our entire life. Late in the season is when teams start to pick up and come together, and I still believe that we can do that. I still believe that that is where this team could go and where we should go.
I was asked Tuesday what my favorite memory was other than the national championship, and I'd have to say it was that summer of 2009 in June and July during my freshman year when we were all playing pick-up together for the first time. Me, John, Eric, DeMarcus and Daniel all played on the same team and played against all the old guys like Darius, DeAndre, Pat, Josh, Ramon and Perry. We just had that swagger about us, a connection before we got here that we wanted to just keep building. (My all-time starting five would still be our freshman five.)
Those two months was probably my favorite time in my college career just because we played every day and every day we would compete, play, talk trash and win - unless of course Pat got hot. Just being able to play those two months and come back over at night when nobody was here, come in and turn the lights on and play two-on-two -the two Johns/Jons vs. the two Bama boys - that's something I'll always cherish. We would play until two or three in the morning, and after we got done we would walk out, walk back to the dorm and about halfway to the dorm we would decide it was time to go get something to eat.
Seeing those four guys leave after the year really took a toll on me because they were all I knew when I got here. Those four guys, they taught me that relationships are a big part of this sport and really just this world in general. And to me, that's what this has all been about. I know everyone wants this team to do well and believe me, we want this team to do well, but as I wrap up my five years here, I've realized there's a bigger picture to this whole thing. To me, it's about the relationships that you form with your teammates and the people you meet during your time here, including the fans.
That's what I will always remember about this place, and I just want to thank the best fans in the world for all of the support you have given me the last five years. It's been the best time in my life.