We heard about it all week. What an honor it was to host the regional tournament.
What we didn't know, was just how honored we were about to be, for we were about to witness a first-class championship event, made possible by a loud and rowdy full-house crowd that never let up, a freshman boy who grew into a man and a championship clash that will not soon be forgotten.
Tournament Director Troy Jones, NCAA Official and Lone Star Conference Commissioner Stan Wagnon and Director of Tickets, Marketing and Promotions Susan Burton are to be commended for leading the great effort it took to make the South Central Regional championship a huge success. The same goes out to all those who worked on the various crews. From the scorers' table to the ticket booth, everything was done first-class. As director of athletics, Lonn Reisman would have it no other way.
The fans are to be commended for returning the excitement to Wisdom Gym. The crowds have been large all year, and have grown throughout South Division play. But for a brief few moments in the second half of Sunday's semifinal between Tarleton and Southwest Baptist, the emotion in the crowd grew to a point not seen since the Texans were battling Drury in overtime during the 2004 Stephenville regional.
And then in the final, the championship environment was fully restored in the house that Wisdom built. The largest crowd of the 2007-08 season - 2,448 to be exact - lived and died with every Jeffrey Henfield three and Terrence Gamble slam, and with every Sam Belt basket and Michael Sosanya put back.
And the Wisdom rowdies found a new favorite son to root for, as little-known Warren Webb grew from freshman to sophomore, and perhaps from boy to man right before our very eyes.
The playoff textbooks would suggest leaving the 6-2 baby-faced kid from Houston's Pasadena Dobie High School on the bench. But the textbooks didn't see what Head Coach Reisman saw in practice – a hard worker dying for a chance, just one brief opportunity, to show he could contribute.
And contribute he did. Dominate actually, during a couple of flashes of brilliance when he drove to the rim and elevated for a basket, or to draw a foul. Or when he would sprint to the other end and tip a pass, take a charge or battle players four to six inches taller for a rebound.
After an inspiring 12 minutes of play in the semifinals, Webb earned 21 minutes of action against UCO in the championship. During that time, he tallied 10 points on a perfect 4-4 from the floor. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out two assists.
Most impressive, given the intense pressure of the colossal showdown, was his unflappability, as he did all this while turning the ball over only once. He surely backed up his veteran coach, who says Webb transformed from freshman to sophomore during his time on the court against Southwest Baptist. If he was a sophomore after Sunday's win, he may already be a junior after Tuesday's loss. Someday, Webb could play a similar role to that of Sam Belt for the regional champ Bronchos – that of coach on the floor.
Finally, to be most commended are the student-athletes and coaches who provided a level of basketball not seen around these parts in four years.
Any of the semifinalists would have made worthy representatives of the South Central Region. Central Oklahoma's title game victory was its second one-point win of the tournament. Tarleton was pushed to the wire by St. Mary's in the opener. Both semifinals were tight until the final five minutes, when the more athletic teams from the LSC finally pulled away from the powers of the MIAA.
Alas, no tournament is truly great without a fantastic finish. In a bracket that was all about the Avery Pattersons and the Belts, the Gambles and the Sosanyas, that finish was provided by none other than Eric Cazenave. And just because the result didn't meet the desire of the crowd, didn't make it any less spectacular.
Eight seconds remaining, down by two. Seven seconds, Belt has the ball. Six, here comes the double team. Bounce pass at five. Quick release. Swish! Four seconds left, three, two, one. Miss at the other end. Pandemonium – for a team who shocked everyone who packed the corners of Wisdom that championship night in Stephenville.
Wisdom returned to form, a boy became a man and a shot from the top of the key turned a post-season hoops tournament into a magnificent classic.