Utah’s Utes will play a game against Western Kentucky at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and try to feel better about their failings earlier this season.
That sounds more critical than it’s meant to be.
There is inspiration to be found here, it just requires some shoveling.
The reason being that the NIT is a tournament for the disappointed.
It’s a tournament for the second cut.
It’s a tournament for teams that could not or, at least, did not meet their goals when the regular season started and when it ended.
It’s a tournament for teams that lose in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament.
It’s a tournament whose champion can proclaim: “See, we didn’t screw up as bad as everybody thought.”
Saying the NIT is a redemptive affair for the Utes is too strong a statement.
Their promising high points during the season betray that kind of notion, the reward now is too pedestrian. Those moments suggest that maybe, just maybe, Utah basketball could have been above all this one-more-shot folderol.
When the Utes beat UCLA at home and headed into a showdown with USC, it looked as though the Utes might roll into the Pac-12 tournament in a condition to be considered worthy of an NCAA berth, but then they lost to the Trojans at the Huntsman Center and thereafter stumbled at the Nikes of Oregon to come up empty and miss out on the tournament everyone actually cares about. Some have guessed they had to win the league tournament to get in.
To hold the Utes to a lesser standard is to disrespect a proud program that too often has demonstrated in the past that it darn near every year should have as primary goals contention for a league title and/or an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Those goals will and do go unattained some seasons. And when they do, nobody should be dancing on the floor after a subsequent victory over an opponent draped in the same disappointment, just disappointment of a different uniform color.
It’s a tough competitive truth of our time that nobody should dance for taking wins in the consolation bracket after missing the big dance.
On the other hand, it beats losing.
The very meaning of consolation is to find solace and comfort after being laid low.
Now that we’ve burrowed through that hard truth, we can find a boost.
It’s represented in the varied words Grandma used to say back in the day when you failed a test or skinned a knee or lost a fight or fell short of a better intention.
• “It’s not how many times you fail, but how many times you get back up.”
• “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
• “You don’t inspire others by being perfect. You inspire them with how you deal with your imperfections.”
• “Never let a stumble in the road be the end of the journey.”
• “The glory is not in never falling, but in rising when you do.”
That’s the beauty that can be found deep inside the NIT.
None of the wins the Utes have gotten or will get in this tournament will eclipse or make up for their earlier losses. They won’t. Ask the players. Most of them would trade away an NIT championship for one shot in the NCAAs.
But there is valor in fighting on.
When Alabama apologists/excuse-makers said the reason the Crimson Tide were defeated by Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl was on account of their abject disappointment caused by their previous loss to Florida, they dismissed the honor in overcoming that disappointment — and the fact that the Utes absolutely balled out in that game, kicking Alabama’s trash all over the field.
The Utes have not and will not play a single great team in the NIT.
They have and will play some good ones.
And beating the good, for this team, which isn’t great itself, is an accomplishment worth, if not going crazy over, at least paying attention to and respecting.
It’s not then that the Utes can be the kings of nothing here.
Or the kings of the world.
It’s that they can prove that they are kings of the troubled, kings of themselves, kings of getting knocked down and getting to their feet again, overcoming what previously had set them back and bummed them out.
And that’s pretty cool.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.