COLFAX, Wash.— As I course through the rolling hills of the Palouse, stripped bare and awaiting the year’s first snowfall, my mind is drawn uncontrollably to the hopes and dreams of the season that lies ahead. For tonight, our team, the Idaho Vandals, tips off its season in Salt Lake City. With high hopes, they’ll take to the hardwood of a hostile court 500 miles from home against a formidable foe. Of course, we’ll be there.
Every team begins its season a beautiful 0-0 and perfection is just 40 games away. Every team falls short. That perfect season is a mirage, a spectre, maybe one missed buzzer-beater away. No team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1976, and none looks likely to do so anytime soon. For most teams below the Red Line, those early-season dreams quickly become a nightmare, and Vandal fans have endured too many of those in recent years.
This year’s Vandals may be on the cusp of something special. With all five leading scorers returning from Don Verlin’s magic first season, anchored by second-generation star Mac Hopson, the foundation is laid. With new talents like Steffan Johnson, Luiz Toledo and Shawn Henderson pulling on a Vandal uniform, the depth and scoring power is there. Not many teams in the WAC are this good, and maybe only one or two are better on paper. We’ve talked about it before and we’ll make no bones about it now — this could be the year that Idaho breaks its two-decade NCAA Tournament drought. We believe.
But as Kyle Whelliston memorably documented, there is no such thing as a perfect season. So it is for us. Idaho opens with three games on the road, two of them against teams that last year went to the NCAA Tournament. The rest of the WAC is stacked. Anything could happen. Are the odds on our side? I don’t gamble. It’s all up to Merlin Verlin, his players and the hoops gods now.
Yet no matter what may be thrown at us, whether tonight we win by two or lose by 25, the Vandals are our team. Our emotional investment has been banked, and it doesn’t matter if their record in March is 25-4 or 4-25.
No matter how this season plays out, we won’t stop believin’.