INDIANAPOLIS — The next time the Oklahoma Sooners take the floor, it’s expected life will have returned to “normal”, whatever that means.
When OU fell to the No. 1-overall seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs 87-71 on Monday, the Sooners ended a journey nearly eight months in the making.
Since reporting back to campus in mid-July, the team has lived an unusual existence, even by the standards of these extraordinary times.
“You're going through three COVID tests a week, waking up at 7 o’clock to get them, stuff like that,” senior guard Austin Reaves said in the post-game press conference. “You couldn't be a regular college student.”
The struggles of the year have led the team to grow closer on and off the court, Reaves said.
“For the people that are social and stuff like that, it was a different year. They really had to stay to their self, stay within the group, the team, the coaching staff,” he said. “So really just cherishing all those moments, all the little things that came from this year, honestly. If it wasn't for that, you might have not got those moments, like the little things that I'm talking about.”
Every year brings new challenges, and a new team chemistry.
Senior center Kur Kuath has already announced he will forgo his extra year of eligibility awarded to all student athletes by the NCAA to pursue a professional career.
In the coming days, Reaves, Brady Manek and Alondes Williams will all also have to decide if returning to Norman for one more year is the next step in their basketball journeys.
Whether Reaves has played his last game for the Sooners or not, it appears a shot in the NBA is in the cards for the 2021 First Team All-Big 12 selection.
“People are inquiring a lot about Austin. Obviously they've watched his career. They know he's got a special skill set,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “He's a big point guard in terms of size, can score, can distribute. Yeah, he's definitely going to play somewhere, and hopefully it's the NBA. But yeah, he's a guy that people are always asking about.”
But Reaves said during this tournament run, he’s just been focused on the task ahead of him, not his future plans.
“I really stay in the moment. Don't really think about tomorrow. Just stay in the day and try to make the best of that day,” he said. “I haven't made any decisions about that. I hadn't thought about it.”
Sometimes it can be easy to miss the forest through the trees when you’re in the day-to-day grind of preparing for the NCAA Tournament, and while Oklahoma ultimately fell short of its goal, Reaves said he hopes at some point the team can look back fondly on their last eight months together and the fight they put up against Gonzaga in the second round.
“It's hard to see right now, but a couple days from now, we'll — I don't even know if it'll be a couple days. We'll still probably be mad,” he said. “But down the road you'll look back and you'll be like, damn, we really did some special things. It's all about the relationships that you get to create with a lot of different guys.
“You'll look back and be proud, and then probably look back and — I mean, hopefully it's over with soon, so look back and then be like, damn, that was a big part of the year.”