Ohio State junior Matt Sylvester's three-pointer may have clinched the 65-64 upset, but a nearly flawless Fuss-Cheatham was instrumental in the win, holding Illinois star Dee Brown to two second-half points and not committing a single turnover. When his father embraced him in the locker room, the two men dissolved into tears. "We did it, Dad!" said Brandon, four months of volcanic emotions erupting at once. "We did it."
His mom had an expression she used with her family whenever she said goodnight or signed a birthday card: "Love you 10 packs." Every day Brandon imagined her saying those words as he tried to cope with the setbacks of his senior season. Like having Ohio State ban itself from postseason play in the wake of violations under former coach Jim O'Brien--infractions that had nothing to do with the Buckeyes' seniors. Or losing his starting point guard job in January as new coach Thad Matta opted to groom youngsters for the future.
"Basketball has been my therapy this year," Fuss-Cheatham says. "That's where I feel most comfortable. After the season's over, it's going to be tougher. I'll have a lot of free time, a lot of things to think about."
He plans to stay in Columbus through December, complete his degree in sport and leisure studies and begin a career in coaching. Someday soon he'll discuss for the first time with his father what happened in November. "He's not quite ready yet," says Jeff Cheatham, who has recovered from the serious injuries he suffered in the crash. "When he is, we'll talk about it."
But on one glorious day last week Fuss-Cheatham's family enjoyed the most memorable Senior Day Ohio State has ever seen. Hadn't Brandon called the Illinois game the Buckeyes' national championship, a chance to prove that they were good enough to make the NCAA tournament if they'd only been given the chance? "It's amazing," Fuss-Cheatham said afterward. "With all the things we've been through this year, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity to end your career. Senior Day, the last game on your home court, the undefeated Number 1 team? You can't script it any better."
As he spoke, Fuss-Cheatham was holding his talisman, the same medallion his father had flashed from the stands in the game's searing final minutes. Brandon had had three of them engraved for his family over Christmas. RIP MOM, they read above Chris Fuss-Cheatham's smiling face. LOVE YOU 10 PACKS.
She had made it to Senior Day after all. ?