(Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications)

In order to understand why we wanted that championship so badly, I think I need to take you back to the last game of my freshman year. We made it all the way to the championship game against Villanova, and tied the game in the final seconds before losing at the buzzer. A lot of kids dream of winning a championship as time expires, but you never think that you're going to lose that way. We really thought we were going to win a national championship and in one moment, that dream was taken away from us.

Fortunately by the time that shot went in for Kris Jenkins, I had grown spiritually from the time I had arrived on campus. I had come across the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, which says “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

I didn't know what the future held, but I did know that we had hope of a championship, and I did know that God didn't abandon us in that title game. Just because we felt devastated after the loss, it didn't mean God stopped caring about us.

You never necessarily understand why things happen, but you know they happen for a reason. For our team, we used the loss as motivation, and within a week of that game we were back in the gym getting ready for 2017.

Luke's shot brought us two wins away from winning the title, and after we outlasted Oregon 77-76 in the Final Four, it was us against Gonzaga in the championship game.

The Bulldogs weren't going to just give us the title. They made us earn it. When Nigel Williams-Goss banked in a jumper with less than two minutes to go, we were trailing 65-63. But we were determined not to feel like we had the year before. Justin completed an old fashioned three-point play to put us back up 66-65, and then after Gonzaga missed their shot at the other end, my teammate Isaiah Hicks buried another jumper to put us up 68-65. Then the Zags missed another shot and after we got the rebound, the championship was ours. We had completed our mission.

 
 

I think winning the title in 2016 would have been great, but I can tell you that after coming so close and losing that year, it made everything the next year even sweeter. I think it's like that off the court too...you hear it all the time, "I think this is good for me" but what God thinks is good for me totally outweighs what we think is best. It's not even a comparison.

Now that I'm a senior, I'm just trying to soak everything in. The relationships I've built here is something I can't even put into words, and although I won't be here next year I'm just trying to enjoy this last season as much as I can.

One other thing I'm trying to do while I'm still here is use my platform for something positive. Initially, it was a little bit out of my comfort zone to talk about my faith, but I wanted to share the gospel with as many people as I could because of what God has done for me. On my Instagram and Twitter accounts, I've had people tell me that this was exactly what they needed to hear, or saying thank you for sharing my faith.

After everything God has done for me, telling His story seems like the least I could do.

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Thomas Hager1 Comment