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Wisconsin Pride
CHARLES P. PIERCE
February 14, 2005
Meet the Dieners of Fond du Lac, the first family of heartland hoops--three generations that have shot and smiled through stardom and sorrow
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February 14, 2005

Wisconsin Pride

Meet the Dieners of Fond du Lac, the first family of heartland hoops--three generations that have shot and smiled through stardom and sorrow

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"Travis truly has a love for people, and not just his teammates but anyone he runs into," Wade says. "People attach themselves to him, and he attaches himself to them."

From the other side of Milwaukee at inner-city Vincent High, where he had come to coach as a kind of strange amalgam of Gene Hackman's Norman Dale and Ken Howard's White Shadow, Tom Diener visited Marquette's practices a couple of times a week, just to check on Travis.

"I still can't talk about [Danny's death] without tearing up," Tom says. "It's still so fresh. I cried. I still cry. I was going over to practice every couple of days, and I usually try to stay away. I tried to talk to Travis about it a little, but he didn't talk about it much."

"It devastated me," Travis recalls. "It was definitely the worst few weeks or months of my life. He was like an older brother, you know? Like an older older brother. Ask any college freshman: It's the hardest year of your life anyway, just getting adjusted. And this was right in the first few weeks of school."

You can feel it again, deep within both of them, as you feel it in June when she talks about her husband. The family talks about sudden death in the night as though it were part of a shared emotional cosmology, as cold and solid in them as whatever it is that makes hawks look like iron in the winter, unbending in the empty trees.

ravis diener has made a play that was so smart and so quick it bordered on a kind of grand illusion, as though both benches, all three referees and the several-thousand-odd fans who had braved a fine Milwaukee blizzard to come drifting into the Bradley Center had suddenly seen him wave a cape and make an elephant appear atop the backboard.

With 5:23 left in a game that Marquette was losing to Charlotte 63--57, Diener had been fouled and gone to the line. On the way he noticed that Marquette was not yet in the bonus situation. Uncharacteristically--Diener has shot 83.8% from the line in his college career--he missed his free throw, which rebounded into the hands of Charlotte forward Curtis Withers. As everyone else on the floor stood around the lane in anticipation of a second free throw attempt, Diener was the only one who grasped the situation. He bolted for the basket, snatched the ball from the astounded Withers and dropped in a layup.

It took the crowd a couple of seconds to cheer. Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz was caught so flat-footed that he didn't even argue, much. Up in the stands Bob and Vicki thought Travis was so angry at having missed from the line that, having grabbed the ball, he was going to do something crazy, like throw it into the seats.

The referees caucused earnestly at midcourt, and even Tom Crean didn't seem to fully comprehend the situation until the ref signaled that the basket was good, and the arena erupted. At the bench Steve Novak gave Diener a high five.

"I told him, 'Thanks for making the rest of us look like schlubs,'" Novak says.

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