SAN JOSE, Calif. – Allen Payne stood in a Cincinnati Wal-Mart, staring at the pink container decorated with green flowers and thought, “This is supposed to hold dead people?”
The Xavier graduate assistant had been dispatched on the errand by head coach Chris Mack, who had a notion that his team needed an urn to house the ashes of a February the Musketeers would happily lay to rest.
Payne settled on a glass jar that Musketeers call an urn and Mack brought it to a meeting before practice.
Xavier was five games into a six-game losing streak that Mack wants to make sure you know was a “brutal strech” in which team had to play No. 1 seed Villanova, three road games against NCAA Tournament teams and then Elite Eight participant Butler at home. Xavier was without leading scorer Trevon Bluiett for three of those games, not to mention second-leading scorer Edmond Sumner, who suffered a season-ending injury on Jan. 29.
The Musketeers were still clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes, but something had to change and fast. So Mack brought out a calendar of the month of February (technically the final loss in the streak came on March 1) and asked each player to write a secret thing they would be willing to sacrifice so the team would start winning games again.
J.P. Macura wrote that he would turn the ball over less, sacrificing a carefree style of play so his team could maintain possession. Quentin Goodin sacrificed his time, pledging to be in the gym more often working on his game and to spend more hours off the court with his teammates, working on those relationships.
And Malcolm Bernard wrote that he would give up whatever his team needed to win, be it sacrificing his body by diving for loose balls or shooting less so that his teammates could score more.
Then Mack put the calendar in a trash can and burned it. When it was over, the ashes were scooped up and placed in the almost urn.
“The symbolism is not to worry about what’s behind us, but to focus on moving forward, control what we can,” Mack said. “We’ve tried to keep that urn either at the scorer’s table during practice when the players walk in the locker room, on the locker room floor.”
It was not an entirely smooth immolation. The calendar burned slow and the fire had to be restarted at one point. The calendar took so long to burn, in fact, that the Musketeers had to leave it smoldering so they could go practice. And there is a mark on the floor that can serve as a reminder to future teams.
“It went through the trash can and burned the carpet,” Macura said.
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