EVANSVILLE—It may not hit them till they're bus gets off at the Keystone Avenue, some three-and-a-half hours away from Evansville.
After a right turn on Hanna Avenue, the Southern Indiana's bus will then pull into the parking lot of the athletics section of the University of Indianapolis' south side campus.
The warm ups will be routine, but not the same. Player introductions will be routine, but not the same.
At some point, then, every member of the Eagles team will lineup. This is where the plan deviates.
Then will come the moment of silence. For most of these players, it will be deafening.
Dealing with grief is an age-old psychological study, as each human being takes the loss of a friend, loved one, or significant other in their own way. Stages of recovery may be similar, but mourning is an individual proposition.
Following the death of teammate Jeron Lewis last Thursday night in a game in Owensboro, Ky., USI now sets out on the touchy-feely grieving process while also trying to continue on with their basketball season.
For those fans not familiar with Division-II basketball, the Eagles are 15-0 on the season and ranked fifth in the NABC poll. A national title-which they won in 1995 with current Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl-is within their grasp, despite the fact they are with a new first year head coach Rodney Watson, who replaced Rick Herges who was forced to resign after NCAA violations.
They overcame that adversity, but this is different, and it seems to be common thing in sports.
Loyola Marymount basketball faced it in 1990, when star Hank Gathers died of heart problems during a game. Reggie Lewis' death came in the off season, but its effects set back the Boston Celtics that season and for time to come.
Indianapolis basketball fans will immediately recall Lawrence North basketball player John Stewart, a commit to the University of Kentucky, who slumped in his chair after coming out of regional game at against Bloomington South at Columbus North High School. An hour late, one of the nation's top basketball prospects was dead due to an undetected heart ailment, and a team and school were forever affected.
Over the past year many teams have faced this challenge. The Angels' Nick Adenhart's death at the hands of a drunk driver. UConn football player Jasper Howard's murder at Connecticut and then Bengals' receiver Chris Henry's death in Charlotte. Add Southern Indiana to that unfortunate fraternity of teams.
One of the most obvious questions now is where does the Southern Indiana team go from here. Well, coach Watson, get out you clipboard, because there's no playbook or strategy to deal with this. Each finds its own way.
When Gathers died, teammate Bo Kimble shot free throws with his left hand, and helped lead the Lions to an improbably appearance the NCAA Tournament's elite eight. Connecticut football players ran out holding hands, while one player carried the No. 5 jersey of Howard and kept it in his hands. Angels players would frequently make their way to the outfield during their 2009 playoff season, touching a picture of Adenhart that was on one of the walls.
At around 7:30 P.M., local college basketball fans will get a chance to see how Southern Indiana basketball will respond to the blow dealt to them this week. Outward shows of tribute will likely happen, but grieving internally will take time.
Coach Watson, we'll eagerly await the play you've drawn up for this one.