February 19, 2001

Mission: Possible

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One look at senior Ray Mercedes’ face would tell you all you need to know.

In his eyes was the wonder of a child scoring his first ever basket, of a boy dominating his first pickup game, of a man overcoming four years of frustration and attaining that unreachable goal.

“You don’t know how good this feels,” he assured.

You’re right Ray, I can only imagine. After enduring four long, losing seasons; after living in the cellar of the Ivies; after playing through emotional loss after emotional loss, Mercedes and his compadres had done it. They had beaten the team that hadn’t let up in 15 tries. Winning by an average margin of over ten points, Princeton continually came to Newman Arena to embarrass the Red.

But not this time.

Senior tri-captains Mercedes, Kevin Cuttica, and Greg Barratt led the charge against a Tiger team that was playing to maintain atop the Ivy League. And for the entire game, the Red never let up. There would be no come back this time.

Watching a 14 point lead being whittled to 10, head coach Steve Donahue quickly called time-out to regroup his troops before putting the finishing touches on his most impressive weekend as head coach.

And in the end it was pure ecstasy. The crowd didn’t storm the court because it was still in shock at how easy the Red had made it look. This wasn’t any Sacred Heart team the men had just blown out, this was the 33-time Ivy League champions.

Five years from now, when they’ve won their first NCAA championship, they’ll look back to this weekend and realize that this was where it all began. This was when they evolved from a team that tried, into a team that fought. This was when the men realized that they didn’t have to be underdogs, and that yes, they could be champions.

But that fighting spirit is the key. That’s what made this team so fun to watch. That’s what makes any team so fun to watch — even if it hasn’t won a game all season. When you watch a group of players give their all — mind, heart and what have you — as a fan, you appreciate it. You cheer them on. And slowly they get closer. Day by day, season by season (decade by decade if you’re the Clippers) that goal falls within reach.

A lot of our sports teams don’t win titles, but they fight to the end. And that’s what makes them so endearing. They’re the underdogs, but they sure as hell don’t give up.

Yes, Ivy League titles aren’t given for heart, for courage, or for spirit. But if they were, you know who would win it. Just take one look at Ray Mercedes’ face.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin