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Baylor Basketball: Not Just Kids

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

These are kids. These are kids on the court.

I know it’s hard to believe, and we never act like it. But those really are just kids out there wearing the Baylor jerseys. Especially last night. Makai Mason and King McClure were “back”, but after a rough 30 minutes, they were both sitting squarely on the bench. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There was a point when I leaned over to my friend and said, “I wouldn’t want any other five on the court right now.”

But let’s take it back to the beginning.

Walking into the Ferrell Center last night was different. It seemed there was a certain vibe, and there seemed to be a little more at stake tonight. Maybe it was just the cool laser show on the side of the Ferrell, but there was a buzz of anticipation.

And why shouldn’t there be? I mean, this is Baylor basketball. That may not mean a lot to the world, but it means a whole heck of a lot to you and me. It means a lot to our guys. And we’re playing Texas, who never even gave us a chance last game, and nobody likes anyway. So, the anticipation made sense.

The energy in the place was very tangible at first, and we got the feeling that this was going to be a good game. But the buzz quickly fled for the hills, and for a good portion of the first half, the Ferrell was dead. It was soul-crushingly dead. I was legitimately sick at my stomach. And I know I wasn’t the only one.

Then they started running. And they kept running. And the score got closer and closer. And with seven minutes left, Freddie Gillespie makes a bucket, and now the lead is down to single digits. I was lucky that I wasn’t curled up in a fetal position right there in the student section, I was so nervous. But the crowd was rocking. Then Mario Kegler drains a three, and now the lead is six. And the crowd grew louder. Then Devnonte Bandoo hit a three. And the lead is three. Then the crowd got really loud. Like, “how on earth is it this loud in here, only like half the seats are full?” loud. The crowd stayed loud until the end. Baylor stayed hot until the end. You know the rest.

But of all the crazy shots. Of all the incredible plays, there is one moment that sticks out far above all the others. By far my favorite moment.

Kegler is at the line, down one with three seconds left in OT, shooting free throws. And while everybody in the building’s eyes were on Kegler, there was one who wasn’t watching. Jared Butler, in the buildup to the first free-throw, had made his way down to the complete other side of the court. He was standing there, looking up at the student section, waiting. He couldn’t bear to watch.

And he waited through the silence in the Ferrell. And the student section went nuts. And a huge smile came across Jared’s face. And in the student section, we were laughing, not because what he did was wrong, but because we could relate 110% with it. We couldn’t watch either. And he started punching the padded goalpost out of joy. He looked like a child on Christmas morning. It was absolutely priceless.

That’s the stuff you don’t get on TV, and that’s the stuff you won’t see on SportsCenter. But that’s the stuff that makes Baylor basketball, Baylor basketball. That’s the stuff that makes you realize what you are watching. You are watching a bunch of college kids dedicate several years of their life to playing basketball games. Sorry…to winning basketball games.

This was Butler’s night. He didn’t have the most points and he won’t be player of the game, but this was his game. We’ve got seasoned veterans Mason and McClure sitting on the bench, watching Butler run this team. He hit big shot after big shot. He made big pass after big pass. Sometimes Butler looks like a freshman on the court. Not tonight. Not even close. But then again, after the buzzer sounded, and Butler was running around the court with his arms out like he was pretending to be an airplane (maybe he wasn’t, but it sure looked like it), that was a kid out there. Jumping around and hugging his teammates, that was when Butler really looked his age. And it was so, so perfect.

Baylor basketball is a gift from God. It really is. Don’t believe me? Just watch the postgame press conference and count how many times these kids mention Jesus and God and faith. It’s not just words. They mean it. You want to tell me God doesn’t love this? How could he not?

All of those games you came to just to watch Baylor lose. All those heartbreaking losses. It was worth it. I’d so easily go through 10 tough losses to see a win like that. But we don’t even have to do that. Last week, we got to watch Baylor go to Ames and beat #19 Iowa State, then come home for a very interesting but somehow satisfying win against West Virginia. I’ll take that any day.

And now we’ve hit March (basically). Baylor is not done. They’ve got quite a few games ahead of them, and as we can all imagine, quite a few wins ahead of them. They’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament, and they’ll probably be winning in the NCAA Tournament. So, strap in. The next month’s going to be a fun one.

And we owe all of this to kids. But they aren’t just kids. Kids don’t do stuff like that. They’re… well, let’s wait and see what else they can do. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

You can follow Armstrong on Twitter @armstrongsimms