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KALAMAZOO -- Forty years from now, if you look up, you might see Joe Reitz and Silver Laku leaping out of an airplane. And, if the parachutes open, they'll check another item off of their own "Bucket List" after drifting to land -- or being helped out of trees by the fire department. The recent Morgan Freeman-Jack Nicholson flick drew so-so reviews from critics, but it inspired Laku and Reitz to the point that the roommates have planned to compile their own life's to-do list. It's a sweet story of friendship, as is the "joined-at-the-hip" relationship between fellow Western Michigan University senior basketball players Derek Fracalossi and Dan Hess.
Some years, today would be all about recognizing and remembering this crew -- which also includes Andrew Hershberger -- during its final home game at University Arena. Silver LakuHowever, for these five, there is another list, one that has little left to be crossed off, except for a large line in bold at the bottom: Win Mid-American Conference Tournament, earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament. It's the type of lingering goal that can keep a team dialed in on the most emotional of days. "We're still focused on going and playing well in Cleveland and keeping our eye on the prize," Reitz said. "It definitely will be an exciting day. I'm glad I get to walk out with my family because they've meant so much in terms of support to me the last four years.
"Honestly, it feels like I've had about a two-year career here." Reitz is the cornerstone of this class, a two-time Academic All-American who is splattered all over the WMU record book -- third in points and rebounds, and first in games played and free throws, among other career marks. "And he's been the focus of every team's scouting report most likely every night for the last three years," Hawkins said of Reitz. The others haven't drawn the headlines, records or honors, but all, Hawkins said, have been significant.
"Not everybody can be an all-conference player. It's never happened in history, ever," Hawkins said " ... You have to have players that fit in. You have to have role players who accept their role and not just accept it but embrace it. You have to have great teammates. "For this whole thing to work and to hang banners, you have to really care about your teammates." Hess, Hershberger and Laku have all fought injuries to keep playing with and for those teammates. Fracalossi, who walked-on four years ago instead of accepting scholarship offers elsewhere, has become Hawkins' "glue-guy" on defense. "Just amazing guys," said Hess, who chose to leave with this class rather than take a medical redshirt after dislocating his shoulder in October. "We've learned a lot from each other. We've had some really good times, and I couldn't ask for better guys to go out with."
And yet, the legacy of his class -- likely remembered as the Joe Reitz era -- will be determined later, after the hugs and flowers for Mom are wrapped up. "I'm hoping that the most important mark on this university and this team is going to the NCAA Tournament and hanging a banner right up there," Reitz said, pointing at the University Arena rafters. "In terms of statistics, I'll look back on that when I get old and fat and can't play anymore. Then I'll start talking about the good old days." Then, of course, he'll have a few other things to accomplish. "The whole thing was a dream -- the traveling, being with the team," said Laku, far from bitter about his injury-plagued career that will wind up with him mostly on the bench. "It went so fast. ... It was a dream."
MAC Tournament Seedings March 12 -15 Quicken Loans Arena No. 12 Buffalo No. 11 Northern Illinois No. 10 Ball State No. 9 Bowling Green No. 8 Toledo No. 7 Eastern Michigan No. 6 Central Michigan No. 5 Miami No. 4 Ohio No. 3 Akron No. 2 Western Michigan No. 1 Kent State
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