|Butler coach carries his grief into NCAA tourney|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 17 March 2009 11:48|
Yes, he celebrated the Bulldogs' latest NCAA tournament selection with players and coaches. And then, like any other basketball coach in the 65-team field, he scrambled to find game tapes of Butler's next opponent, LSU.
It's supposed to be the most exciting time in the life of a young assistant coach. For Kuwik, it's also the most tragic of times.
He agonizes about how different this March might have been if could have shared the joy with his 30-year-old girlfriend, Lorin Maurer.
She might have flown into Indianapolis for the Horizon League tournament championship game, probably would have met him in Greensboro, N.C., this week and most certainly would have gone to Detroit for the Final Four where the couple was planning to celebrate a one-year anniversary.
Instead, Kuwik is grieving.
e at Kuwik's brother's wedding.
``It seems like I've aged a ton in the last month,'' said Kuwik, now in his 14th season as a coach. ``The busier you stay, the more things you can focus on, the better it is. But you still get images, flashbacks, and it doesn't hit you as hard as it does if you're sitting there staring at a wall.''
Kuwik has had no trouble staying busy.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 22, turned what was expected to be a rebuilding year into another regular-season title run and are one of four non-BCS schools with an at-large bid in this year's tournament. He spent the early part of this week helping coach Brad Stevens plan for the SEC's regular-season champs.
The memories, though, keep coming back: from the moment he and Lorin met last year at the Final Four - he was coaching, she was raising money for the Princeton athletic department - to the moment he learned of the crash while waiting at the airport. She was the woman he might have married.
``I am a workaholic and she was probably the first person to grab me by the ear and say you have got to have some balance in your life,'' he said. ``She made me realize that there was more to life than just your job.''
Suddenly, Kuwik and Maurer were crisscrossing the country to meet. She flew in for games during the season, when he couldn't fly to the East Coast, and he planned to return the favor when Butler's season ended.
is now in his mid-30s. Before entering coaching, he attended Notre Dame on an ROTC scholarship, then served two years on active duty in the Army. Kuwik was still in the National Guard in late 2004 and working as an assistant at Ohio University. Then came an unexpected call. He had to go to Iraq, and basketball was put on hold.
Kuwik wound up in Mosul, witnessing the chaos, poverty and violence of war. He didn't make it back to Ohio, until he was granted a leave after the Bobcats won the Mid-American Conference tournament title.
``You saw tragedy, you saw everything in the whole range of emotions (in Iraq). It makes you tougher,'' he said. ``I think it gave me a good perspective to help me mentally come to grips with it.''
Now, Kuwik relies on a wide network of support.
He spent that first weekend with his family and Maurer's, both in Buffalo for the wedding. His Army buddies started calling and some even attended Butler games. He's spoken repeatedly with Northeastern assistant coach John Rhodes, who befriended Kuwik while they worked together at Ohio. Former players have contacted Kuwik, too, and his current Butler players added a black stripe to their jerseys hours after learning of the crash.
Stevens was one of the first people Kuwik called that grim night.
ers and coaches to managers spent a lot of time together. It reminds you that we're just playing games and this is small stuff compared to the big picture.''
The crash was all over TV screens for days. Some recoiled at the incessant video footage, but Kuwik saw it as an opportunity - for him and others - to tell the stories of loved ones. Eventually, he found a way to honor Maurer's memory.
``Purple was Lorin's favorite color,'' Kuwik said. ``When I was getting ready to go back out there, I was going to get a black suit and then I thought, she wouldn't want me to wear black. So I wore a purple tie to the funeral and they made 800 purple ribbons for the memorial service at Princeton. I've been wearing the purple tie ever since.''
He'll have it on again Thursday when Butler faces the purple-and-gold clad Tigers, too. This is Kuwik's second NCAA tournament, and he'll use the week to concentrate on basketball. Still, it's so easy for his thoughts to wander.
``This is the neatest time of year for a basketball coach,'' he said. ``You're there with the guys you've been with all year, and when you win, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. It's really disappointing she won't be able to be there. I want to keep pushing on for Lorin's memory.''