Santa Clara has made a run to the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com tournament in its first trip to a postseason tournament in 15 years. That the Broncos are able to give their young players experience playing in late March and a trip to New York to play at Iona on Wednesday has been meaningful.
The team has gotten an chance to dine in Times Square, practice in Madison Square Garden, and also learn a little bit more about coach Kerry Keating. He grew up in Long Island and today took his players to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood 10 years ago.
"It's hard for me to not choke up about it. I lost friends," Keating said. " It's just hard to put into words. It's hard to describe to these guys the magnitude of what happened and how big these buildings used to be and who used to be in there and how many times I've been there.
"You draw that skyline as a kid when you're learning in art class. It's hard. It's going to be hard. But it's also something that I want them to see, how much it affects me. I want them to see how it's hard for me to not get emotional about it because that's the most important thing for me is that they know how to live the rest of their lives the right way."
Keating was an assistant coach at Tennessee during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He knew people working in the World Trade Center that day.
"Cantor Fitzgerald was a pretty big firm that a lot of people from Long Island, that a lot of our friends worked at," Keating said. "There were a lot of people that were friends and friends of our family and people that I knew. Fortunately no one that I would consider a best friend. I'm lucky to still have all those guys that could have been in that building that weren't."
Santa Clara, after finishing fourth in the WCC and falling to Saint Mary's in the semifinal round of the conference tournament, has gotten hot in the CIT. The Broncos beat Northern Arizona, Air Force, WCC foe San Francisco and Southern Methodist to reach the title game.
The tournament has given the Broncos' talented underclassman backcourt of Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore time to grow. Foster has averaged 32 points over the past three games, and Roquemore had a 30-point game against San Francisco.
Santa Clara is playing late into the year and will get an early start next season as well with a preseason trip to Vancouver. But right now, Keating wants to emphasize to his team the opportunity to win a postseason championship.
"As much as we're talking about wanting it to happen again, we may never hang another banner again," Keating said. "You never know how final things can be. Maybe you can keep appreciating that. Maybe they'll appreciate each other and be able to smile and still be able to cry, too."