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A disappointing loss, an odd confrontation, and some dedicated Ram fans: Justin reflects on the 2020 Mountain West Tournament and more
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
We’ve all heard the famous phrase — and for most people, that’s the way they prefer to keep things.
Those people, however, do not produce content for a living. More importantly, those people did not have the week that I did. And with that in mind, the story begins on Wednesday, March 3rd at 2:30 a.m.
After roughly two hours of sleep, I grabbed my suitcase, which was obviously way too full — despite five years of covering the Rams and frequently traveling for road games, I still absolutely suck at packing the appropriate amount of clothes for any trip.
Anyways, I picked up my lead weight of a suitcase, threw some Mac Miller tunes on and began the 70-mile trek to DIA.
Most people dislike DIA — primarily due to its size, distance from the city and absurdly odd artistic choices. (Shoutout to Bluecifer the demon horse statue.) But I’ve never really had an issue with DIA. I like the size because I usually walk around with headphones on and in my experience, it’s always pretty peaceful early in the mornings.
At around 7:30 a.m., I touched down at McCarran International and the excitement really started to kick in. Although I had been to Sin City four times before last week’s trip, I was particularly excited this time around because I was staying near the strip for the first time in a few years and I genuinely felt like Colorado State men’s basketball was capable of making a run this spring.
With an entire day to kill before an evening tip-off against Wyoming, I decided to walk the strip, take in the scenery and enjoy a little bit of sunshine. After about three hours of solo exploring on the strip, I ran into a couple of dedicated Rams supporters enjoying the perks of judgement-free day drinking. Hey, it’s Vegas, right?
While discussing CSU men’s basketball, the improved culture and bright future of the program as a whole, I began to reflect on just how fun the 2019-20 season had already been. Between the Duke trip, multiple buzzer-beaters and plenty of memorable moments in-between, this season really had a little bit of everything.
There was disappointment in home losses to Arkansas State and Colorado. There was drama in triumphant wins over Loyola Marymount and Tulsa. And there was optimism in an incredible 10-game stretch where the Rams went 8-2 against the league, despite having a primary rotation of just three seniors and six underclassmen.
Once we had said our goodbyes, I began walking back towards the OYO Hotel & Casino aka the Hooters Hotel. While I can’t say that I loved the stench of stale cigarette smoke that always seemed to be present, for a guy on a budget, the hotel served its purpose, giving me a place to crash for a few hours a night.
After a brief pit stop at In-N-Out with my fellow Rams reporter and good college friend, Eddie Herz, it was time to get nice and pretty for postseason basketball. At the risk of coming off like a braggart, as the best-dressed reporter on the beat, I had a reputation to uphold in the postseason.
Unfortunately, though, I ended up feeling like the guy that gets dolled up for prom only to find out that his date did not show. The Rams, after going into the event feeling like they were good enough to win the entire thing, became the first team in the history of the league to lose to a No. 11 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.
Putting things simply, CSU got out-played by a Wyoming team that desperately wanted revenge after getting embarrassed by the Rams on their home floor just two weeks before.
It wasn’t an effort issue and it wasn’t because CSU did not respect its opponent. The Cowboys were just the better team on Wednesday night — just like they were against No. 3 Nevada on Thursday night.
For some fans, losing to a rival in the postseason will negate all of the good moments from this season. Personally, I don’t like that mindset for a multitude of reasons but primarily because if winning in the postseason is the only thing we are supposed to care about, being a sports fan is going to be a pretty miserable experience most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I was as disappointed as anyone to see CSU’s journey fall short. As someone that got to witness the work that this group put in behind the scenes, it was heartbreaking to think Nico Carvacho, Kris Martin and Hyron Edwards Jr. may have played their final game in a Rams uniform.
If anything, though, going on this trip only reinforced what makes being part of the CSU Rams community so special to me in the first place.
Late Wednesday night, after recording a postgame podcast about the loss to the Pokes, I began to receive angry tweets from a man whose name isn’t worth mentioning.
Now I’ve dealt with my fair share of internet trolls over the years, so getting a few mean responses has never been something that I’ve lost sleep over. But this beef was different. It was personal and way over the line — not just because of what was being said about me, but because of what was being said about the CSU players that were brave enough to stand up for themselves two years prior.
Admittedly, I regret ever engaging this person. There was nothing to be gained and it’s not like I was going back and forth with someone that operated with any sense of logic or respect. After two years of insults and degrading comments, though, I had honestly just reached a breaking point.
After yet another confrontation via DMs late Wednesday night, on Thursday afternoon, things went to a new level at the arena. This individual came up from behind while I was chatting with another friend of mine and proceeded to very loudly call me multiple derogatory terms and even attempted to provoke me into fighting him.
The situation was as absurd as it sounds. A grown man was trying to fight me at a basketball arena because he didn’t like the completely true things I had to say about Larry Eustachy on Twitter dot com.
Initially, I was shocked. The pure chaos of the moment was not something I was prepared for. Quickly that shock turned into anger and embarrassment when I realized how many people witnessed the commotion.
Fortunately, I was able to gather my emotions and walk away from the situation. Getting a credential is a privilege that I do not take lightly, and after grinding for half a decade, I wasn’t about to get kicked out for something like this.
Even so, I felt fairly frustrated by the entire evening. Beyond that, I genuinely felt awkward sticking around, so I decided to leave the Thomas and Mack Center and work on my podcast while watching the first half of the Wyoming-Nevada game on TV at the hotel.
After wrapping up the episode, I received an invitation from Aaron Harris to join him and some of his buddies out for a night on the town. Harris is the host of the Ramsanity Podcast and bleeds green and gold so I decided to take him up on his offer rather than stew in my own feelings at the hotel.
This ended up being a tremendous decision. At the Flamingo, myself, Eddie Herz, Vikings wide receiver Olabisi Johnson and a squad of dedicated CSU diehards chopped it up for hours. We talked about the highs and lows of being a Rams fan. We consumed an adult beverage or five. And for the first time that day, I forgot about the nonsense from earlier and connected with a truly special group of people.
To me, that’s what loving sports is all about. Wins and losses will come. So will coaches and players. It’s the friends we make along the way and the experiences we share together that will ultimately stand out over time.
20 years from now, I’m sure I’ll still remember how weird the 2020 Mountain West Tournament was. It’s pretty tough to forget one of the few times in my life where I’ve been in an actual confrontation. What makes me happy, though, is that the negative isn’t what defined my experience in Las Vegas.
When I look back at this trip and this season as a whole, a pointless Twitter beef is not what will be the first thing that comes to mind — it will be a feisty Rams team that made basketball fun in Moby again and the memories I made with a group of people that have supported me from day one.
I don’t know for sure whether CSU men’s basketball will choose to play in the postseason or not. Regardless of whether they receive an invite to the NIT, they should have an opportunity to play in some form of postseason tournament if the school is willing to spend a little bit to make it happen.
From a basketball sense, it would be valuable for the young guys to play in another high stakes environment — especially after getting bounced early in the Mountain West Tournament.
If this was the end for this group, though, it was a fun ride. Nobody expected the Rams to win 20 games — not even me. That’s reason enough to hold your head up high and feel proud to be.