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Boy, was Big Dub ever a wreck. � All day long he had fought back the tears. For Kansas forward Wayne Simien even the smallest things on Senior Day had triggered a wave of nostalgia: Walking to class past Allen Fieldhouse and gazing at the flags fluttering in the sun. Tiptoeing through the adoring student campers with their laptops in the arena hallways. Pulling on that white jersey one last time in the KU locker room. The most wrenching part was seeing his three Jayhawks classmates-- Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee. Hadn't he always called them the brothers he never had?
Why, poor Dub nearly broke down crying at the midday shootaround.
Now it was 10:46 p.m. on March 2, and Simien stood alone at center court, microphone in hand. Kansas had polished off Kansas State an hour ago, yet nearly 16,000 fans remained in their seats, waving flowers and signs (THE CLASS OF 2005: ALL HEART) and shedding a few tears of their own. Simien glanced over at his parents, Margaret and Wayne Sr., and suddenly the memories flooded over him like a second baptism: the thrill of cheering here as a boy, a hotshot from nearby Leavenworth who dreamed of playing for the Hawks someday. The pain of myriad injuries and a devastating coaching change. The joy of being born again, of finding God and forging an All-America-worthy senior season.
Big Dub took a deep breath. "I'm going to go ahead and apologize right now," he began, a hush falling over the old barn. "Get comfortable, 'cause I've been waiting for this my whole life."
No tradition in sports is quite like Senior Day, and as we learned again last week, no sport does Senior Day like college basketball. Maybe it's the indoor setting, the emotional intimacy akin to sharing a couch by the living room fire. Maybe it's the small number of players, who seem more human than their armored football counterparts. Maybe it's the knowledge that a chapter of their lives, and ours, is over. Whatever the reason, in the past quadrennium we got to know these seniors, their strengths, their faults, their stories. And so, during one final pause before March's Big Bang, we crossed the nation last week as the college game honored its four-year survivors--the stars and walk-ons, the done-thats and could-have-beens--and young giants wept like infants as they said goodbye.
The Inland Islander
If the 14-hour journey from Martinique to Spokane couldn't dampen Aline Cesar's Caribbean optimism, then nothing would keep her from savoring Senior Night with her son, Gonzaga forward Ronny Turiaf. Each new mental snapshot brought tears of joy: seeing the huge spread in the paper that celebrated Ronny's career and acclaimed him as the only athlete in Spokane's history (which includes John Stockton, Mark Rypien and Ryne Sandberg) to be known to the public by his first name. Hearing the fans in the Kennel Club student section sing, "We love Roe-nee!" as she walked out in the pregame ceremony with him, his sister Elodie and his girlfriend, Tracey Thomas. And watching her son, always emotional anyway, break down in a puddle after hugging his coach, Mark Few, just before tip-off against Northern Colorado.
"It's wonderful to be here and see how special this is," she said in French after the Bulldogs' 87-60 win, her eyes still wet at the corners. "This is like a gift to share this moment with Ronny."
The last time Aline had visited her son on campus, Ronny was a homesick freshman floundering in the subarctic winter, to say nothing of the English language. "It was awful," Ronny says. "After class I had to ask the teachers, 'What eez that? What ... does ... that ... meeeen?' I felt like I was really stupid." Basketball wasn't much better. Despite Turiaf's prodigious athleticism, his inside game was raw, and Few spent weeks trying to rid him of the throat-slashing and scowl-flashing Turiaf had learned while watching the NBA on television abroad.
Now look at him. Fluent in four languages, Turiaf is on track to earn a sports- management degree in May with a B average. He's projected as a first-round NBA draft pick, not least because he has perfected a range of moves on the low block. What's more, the 6'10" Turiaf's decision to pass up the pros last year has made him an icon in Spokane. "He's the most visible person in this community," says his roommate, senior guard Brian Michaelson. Over the past four years Turiaf has been Gonzaga's Waldo, a cornrowed fixture at campus plays, concerts and sporting events. Last spring he asked the Bulldogs' baseball coach for permission to sit in the dugout during a game, just so he could learn the finer points of hardball chatter. "Everybody who comes across him feels like they're good friends with him," says Few. Maybe that's why, after Turiaf had piled up 22 points and eight rebounds in his last home game, a half-dozen Kennel Clubbers unveiled a multipaneled sign: TODAY, WE CONSIDER OURSELVES THE LUCKIEST FANS ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.