The final horn sounded on this Kentucky basketball season, and Reid Travis untucked his jersey, leaned over, and put his hands on his knees.
The Wildcats’ graduate transfer from Stanford — a different kind of one-and-done in this UK era filled with them — held that pose as the Auburn Tigers jumped up and down on the court, celebrating their overtime victory and their trip to the Final Four, which will be played in Travis’ hometown of Minneapolis.
The 23-year-old Wildcat picked UK last summer to make himself a better player. He succeeded in that.
Travis worked hard all season to get to that final prize. On Sunday, he came up a little short.
“You look at the hours you put in,” Travis said, trying to describe the emotions of the moment. “The friendships, the bonds you make with your coaches, teammates. There’s a lot that goes into a college basketball season, so for me to have five of those … I think that was the emotions that hit me: ‘It’s finally over.’ It’s kind of a chapter that’s closing in my life.”
Travis stood there for a few seconds before Ashton Hagans walked over, gave him a hug, and whispered something in his ear.
“I love you,” UK’s freshman point guard told him. “Thanks for helping me get better this whole season.”
A few seconds later, Tyler Herro — another freshman — did the same thing.
“I told him, just, that I love him,” Herro said.
When Herro was finished, it was Nick Richards’ turn. The sophomore center started every game of last season, but Travis’ arrival pushed him to a bench role for most of this one.
No hard feelings. Only appreciative emotions.
“I told him that I love him,” Richards said. “And that I built a bond with him that I’ll never forget.”
Travis then wiped his eyes with his Kentucky jersey and walked toward the postgame handshake line, a look of disbelief still splashed across his face.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the Wildcats’ locker room and made the long walk to the press room. There was blood on his jersey. Blood on his sock. There was still an open wound on his leg. He had battled for 44 minutes and 16 seconds, made big plays to keep the ball — and UK’s season — alive. After he checked into the game with 11:08 remaining in the first half, he never watched another second from the sideline.
Travis stopped in a holding room and sat down for a few minutes as he and teammate PJ Washington waited for John Calipari to join them. Washington, who battled back from a foot injury and had one of the best games of his college career Sunday, sat on one side of the room, staring down at the floor. Travis sat on the other side, staring straight ahead.
Calipari walked up. “Come on, guys,” he said, gesturing them toward the press room.
Asked to describe what Travis has meant to this team, Calipari — a coach that often takes a question and spins the answer into an entirely different subject; whatever he wants to talk about at the time — actually paused for a beat and put some thought into what the young man sitting next to him had brought to Kentucky basketball.
“To have a guy come to this program and absolutely trust — we never promised him he would start or how many minutes. I don’t do that,” Calipari said. “But having enough trust to know and enough faith in himself to come here. And then through the ups and downs of what we’re doing, never changed — what a great lesson, if anybody else was watching. And all these young kids were watching. The other thing is it just shows that you can do the academics here, you can do the basketball here, you can be a great person. You can. And Kentucky fits that.
“But I just tell you, personally, what a pleasure. … What a pleasure to coach him.”
Back in the locker room, Travis’ teammates were huddled in their lockers. They were upset their season was over. They were upset they’ll never play together again. And they were upset that Travis wouldn’t be able to make it back to Minneapolis. They had come up just one point here, one bounce there, short of a Final Four in their veteran leader’s hometown.
Travis caught wind of his young teammates’ comments. When he spoke about them, he smiled. And his eyes started to glisten.
“It means a lot. It just shows the brotherhood that we’ve built all year. They know I’m from there and how much it means to me. Everyone fought. Everyone gave everything they could. It didn’t work … but that’s life sometimes. You kind of just have to trust the journey that we’re all on and hold our heads up high and just enjoy the time that we were able to have together.”