The Promise of Next Year
April can be a complicated time of year. It can be glorious. Or disastrous. Joyful? Painful? Perhaps sublime is the word. Regardless of the taste it leaves in your mouth, April signifies the end. A fade to black. A curtain call. An ex-parrot. I was born and raised outside of Chapel Hill, NC. A place known to most as basketball country and home to the best rivalry in college sports–some would say in all of sports (I am one of those people). In this part of the world, basketball is something that’s closer to religion than recreation. The collective mental health of the town can be measured in the season’s wins and losses. Being in the throws of a close game can feel like being a passenger on an airplane tailspinning out of control. There are times when your heart is beating so fast that you’re convinced it could crack a rib. Superstition is rampant here. The stakes are always high. Banners, and bragging rights, are everything.
Which brings me back to April. It’s a time of feast and famine. Of winners and losers. Of banners and broken hearts. There is only one team who gets to end the season with a win and chances are, it’s not your team. Your team probably didn’t make it out of March. It’s okay, most teams don’t. April is reserved for four at most, but really only for one. A lone champion. The last living gladiator amongst a field of fallen foes. For this team, no taste is sweeter than that of success. The elusive title. The moment when you finally catch the dragon. For the everyone else, though, there is a simple, yet alluring, consolation prize offered: the promise of next year.
There is an eery power to the promise of next year. It is a single serving of concentrated hope that has been boiled down to its most pure form. Filter away the doubts, the tragic realities, and the holes in next year’s recruiting class. Skim off the threat of early departures for the NBA, the freak season-ending-before-it-even-started injuries in summer pick up games, and the unexpected transfers to different teams over playing time disputes. Get rid of all of it. All you are left with is a sense that next year could very well be THE year. Next year will be the year that we go undefeated and win a national championship (sorry Kentucky, too soon?). Next year will be the year that we begin a new dynasty. Next year will be the year that we break every record in the books and even invent new categories to set records in. Next year, we will be unstoppable.
Until then, though, there must first come summer. Summer is when you redefine yourself–when you decide what kind of man you are going to be from now on: a champion or a guy who’s talking a big game about next year? Summer is the montage of months standing between your unpolished game of last year and your new savvy, seemingly effortless, finesse game of this year. Summer is the 20 years of work before the overnight success. Summer is the substance of second chances. Summer is freely available to anyone willing to exchange sweat, pain and hard work for the chance to make good on the promise of next year.
Tomorrow night, we will find out who the team lucky enough to end their season with a win will be. Much to my chagrin, there is a fifty-fifty chance that it will be the Duke Blue Devils. I hope that you will join me in my effort to put out a black magic voodoo jinx into the ether to dissuade the basketball gods from giving them another championship. Nevertheless, I hope that it is a great game with twenty lead changes and that it’s won on the final shot as the clock expires–with Wisconsin winning, of course. It’s been a good college basketball season and a pretty decent NCAA tournament. I will truly be sad to see it go, but for me and for all but one team, there is always the promise of next year. Let’s put in the work to make it happen. Summer is right around the corner.