INDIANAPOLIS – Butler won its 18th men's basketball game on Saturday over Atlantic 10 Conference counterpart Rhode Island in front of 10,000 fans in a packed-to-the-rafters Hinkle Fieldhouse. Obviously, a lot of people cared about the outcome of this game.
Tonight, I don't.
“The thing that I'm most proud of is that these guys care about each other,” Bulldog coach Brad Stevens said following the victory. “This result is nice, blah, blah, blah… that's the best part about this.”
In wake of Butler junior forward Erik Fromm losing his father, Leonard Fromm, to cancer on Saturday morning, all I can think of pertaining to this game is “blah, blah, blah.”
I hardly know Erik at all. I've interviewed him a couple of times and he has always been very polite and well spoken. You can tell that he is one of those young men who will ultimately become very successful in life because of his intelligence and how he carries himself. He has a sense of maturity beyond his years.
My gut aches just thinking that on Erik's 21st birthday on Monday, instead of celebrating with his girlfriend or teammates, he'll be in the process of burying his father and supporting his mother (Donna) at the worst time in both of their lives.
And I'm supposed to detail Butler's improved defensive effort in the second half? Sorry, I just can't do it.
I have no knowledge of how often Leonard or Donna got to watch their son play at Butler, probably a lot. But I have to believe that they were filled with immense pride as they watched him succeed (he had a 52-1 record as a starter for Bloomington South High School and won a Class 4A state championship) in both high school and college.
Erik is a guy whose value on the court isn't captured in a box score. That's not a kind word for a guy in a low moment, I tweeted that recently.
There is no statistic for being the guy who Stevens tells at Northwestern, “Go in and guard Alex Olah,” who has a four-inch advantage and 52 pounds on Fromm. But that is the kind of person and player Fromm is.
Leonard had to have loved that about his son. I certainly do.
I was told the Fromm family discovered Leonard's illness last summer. College is difficult enough, let alone trying to grow as a person while competing for playing time on the No. 9 team in the country, all the while juggling a full course load in psychology.
Leonard had to have admired the strength that his son exhibited. I certainly do.
I understand bad things happen in life. But that never makes seeing a situation as this any easier or more rationalized.
Leonard was supposed to have been able to enjoy the remainder of Erik's athletic career, which could include yet another special March run. There is a wedding to have been celebrated; grandchildren to have been held; Upward basketball games to have attended, while recalling a lanky red-headed Erik from his younger days.
Stevens had to tell his team at Saturday's pre-game meal about Leonard, and unfortunately, he has experience in doing such.
Former Butler player Rob Walls had his mother pass away prior to a game earlier in Stevens' tenure with the Bulldogs, and he had to handle the same tragic situation.
“I think what you learn is that you don't spend a lot of time on basketball,” Stevens said. “What can you do to be a supportive person? We do have a task at 4 p.m. (against Rhode Island), that we need to try and do to the best of our ability. Let's try to make each other proud with our effort, even though it's hard to really focus on that task.”
I'm going to fail coach Stevens. I can't focus on my task, which is analyzing an impressive victory over a tenacious opponent.
In time this game will regain significance for me. Time does heal all wounds and I'll resume being critical of turnovers and missed foul shots. However, tonight, all I want to think about is Erik, a guy that I hardly know, but have the utmost respect and admiration for.
May the Lord bless Erik and his family.