End of the run for Edy, Clark and Malone

By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw

Saying goodbye is hard.

Whether you are waving at your grandchildren as the SUV they are riding in pulls down the driveway and disappears down the road or you walk out of your child’s college dorm room and leave them there for the first time, it’s never easy nor is it fun.

I feel that way about three college basketball players that had an impact on us.

Purdue fans are feeling it today after the Boilermakers lost to Connecticut Monday night in the men’s college basketball championship game.

Zach Edey played his last game for the Old Gold and Black that night.

Edey came to West Lafayette as an awkward teenager from Canada and will leave there as a 2-time AP College Player of the Year and 2-time Naismith Award winner.

Purdue fans have watched the 7-feet 4-inch, 300-pound center go from being a clunky project of Matt Painter’s to being an unstoppable force and an immovable object that even the best defensive team in the country couldn’t stop.

He went from shy and backward to being powerful and popular — a man who came to embrace his celebrity.

The long stares upward at his giant frame used to be greeted by a solemn stare at what was directly in front of him, but now find a giant’s smile and direct eye contact in return.

He became a man of the people, and he will never ever be forgotten.

Caitlin Clark played her final game for Iowa in Sunday’s women’s national final.

She was born in Des Moines and had a terrific high school career, but passed up all of the offers that came her way for the purpose of living out her dream — to be a Hawkeye.

No one has scored more points as a college basketball player than she did.

No one collected more assists as a women’s college basketball player than she did.

No one leaves the college women’s game after having a greater impact on it than she does.

Her legacy is not in the points or assists. It’s not in the records or the accolades.

For Caitlin Clark, one needs only to listen to her teammates speak of her over the last few months to understand who she is and what she means to them.

They love her, because they understand how much better of a player she is than they, but they love her with every fiber of their beings because she loves them with every fiber of her being.

On the court, she rewarded them with trust shown in passing the ball to them instead of trying to force up her own shot. She knew that the best chance Iowa had for collective success was to work together, and she set out to show that to all of us.

Off the court, she was just one of the girls. Oh, sure, her public celebrity was inescapable. But her coaches and teammates embraced it, and she made them part of that. We got to know kids like Gabby Marshall and Kate Martin because Caitlin Clark made sure that we not only heard from them, but that we came to appreciate them on a parallel level.

They will never forget her for that. Neither will Iowa fans. Neither will the rest of us.

And for Elijah Malone of Grace College, who could ever have imagined that the center from Prairie Heights High School — in between LaGrange and Angola on a quite parcel of land in the Northern Indiana plains — could become a household name nationwide among followers of small college basketball.

Malone recently added the Bevo Francis Award to his trophy shelf. That award is given annually to the best small college player in America. We’re talking about 13,000 players from over a thousand universities at all levels below NCAA Division I.

He’s a mountain of a man who lives in a rarified group of players who have come through the Crossroads League, had other teams lose sleep over how to try to at least slow them down, and fail to do so.

He’s graduating, and he is seeking to chase a dream of playing beyond college. So he is searching for a new place to play next fall with the hopes of showing professional teams —  here and overseas — what he’s capable of.

The common thread that runs through these three is that the core values by which they were raised and entered college with are still their foundation today.

Of course, they have matured and are not the same as when they walked on campus for the first time. You couldn’t achieve what they all have achieved without growing as people.

But beyond the numbers … beyond the banners and championships … beyond the 30-foot jumpers and thunderous dunks … beyond all of that are people who will be simply “Zach,” “Caitlin” and “Elijah” and no one will ever not remember the people they have proven themselves to be and the impact they have had and will continue to have on the lives of so many people around the country.

And so it is with emotion that we wave “goodbye” to them at the end of this season of their lives, and of ours.

And with it comes a heartfelt “thank you” for letting us be a part of them, and them be part of us.