For the six seniors completing their eligibility, there were emotional hugs and a few tears shed inside the Arizona State locker room Saturday evening at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The journey of the 2002-03 basketball season had been halted by sixth-ranked Kansas, an elite program that was at the top of its game in handing ASU a 108-76 thumping.
Sophomore guard Jason Braxton, though, was looking ahead to next season.
The seniors laid the foundation for future NCAA appearances. It's up to Braxton and present and future teammates to build to accomplish it.
"This was the funnest time, the game against Memphis," Braxton said. "Just the atmosphere. I want to lead the team back to this."
Braxton lost his starting job to senior Kyle Dodd at season's end, but with the game long in doubt, the Moreno Valley, Calif., product took matters into his own hands to lead ASU with 17 points in only 20 minutes.
Braxton will be the most experienced member of the team next season and will have to assume more of a leadership role as the Devils try to avoid falling to the second division after a fourth-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference this winter.
Freshman Ike Diogu, the centerpiece of the ’03 Devils, will have that role next season as well.
Coach Rob Evans recruited a class that after the November signing period had ranked among the top 30 in the country by various recruiting services.
The skill level will improve with the newcomers, but lost will be experience. Dodd, Tommy Smith, Shawn Redhage, Curtis Millage, Donnell Knight and Chris Osborne played a combined 577 games.
Dodd, Redhage and Smith each played 122 games in four seasons.
The recruiting need this year was frontcourt players. Keith Wooden, 6-foot-9, of Lawrence, Kan.; 6-9 Wilfried Fameni of Amelia, Va.; and 6-8 Chris Low of Tyler, Texas, were signed in November.
Guard Tron Smith, from Moreno Valley, Calif., was also signed.
Evans decided as the season unfolded that he needed more shooters, so he recruited junior college transfer Steve Moore to replace Millage, who came to ASU as a junior college transfer. Moore has orally committed and is expected to sign a letter of intent in April.
Recruited walk-on Kevin Kruger, son of former Atlanta Hawks coach Lon Kruger, comes off a redshirt year to perhaps aid ASU's outside shooting.
Forward Serge Angounou, projected to be a starter this year, and forward
Allen Morill missed the season because of injury and academics, respectively.
Angounou dislocated his kneecap Nov. 13 and didn't rehabilitate sufficiently enough to practice this season. He'll play next year as a medically redshirted freshman.
The 6-6 Morill has been practicing for nearly a month and has been a physical presence inside with a shooting range up to 15 feet. As a partial qualifier, he'll be a sophomore.
Also returning next year are juniors Justin Allen, a forward, and guard Kenny Crandall, who will have a hard time finding minutes, and junior guard Jamal Hill, who faded in the second half of the season after a promising start.
Diogu and Braxton will have seven new players to mesh with in hopes of repeating an NCAA tournament appearance.
"I know for a fact I'll work harder to prepare for the future," Braxton said. "We can work harder (as a team). I've got to get the freshmen involved so we can try to make a nice run."
The seniors are proud of what they accomplished. An NCAA appearance in their final season after a pair of trips to the NIT.
"Nobody thought we'd get here but us," said Millage, who has high hopes for the team's future. "I'm sure it will continue what Coach Evans has started."
It'll be the start of another era, though, another phase of Evans' tenure as ASU coach.
"We want to build on this and be better," Braxton said. "I never want to sit here with this feeling. I want to play in the game at the end."