Ambrose family's basketball dream shattered by COVID-19 pandemic
It's tempting, so very tempting, to think about what could have been.
What could have been for the team.
What could have been for two brothers.
What could have been for those two brothers, and their dad.
There was a lot for the Ambrose family to be excited about less than one month ago.
And, on a dime, it all changed.
Dad Pat and sons Matthew and Evan were about 24 hours from realizing a big step in a basketball dream that had been in the making for years, practically a lifetime.
"We always hoped for it, going back to when we were younger," Matthew Ambrose said. "We dreamed of it."
The dream was of Matthew and Evan, sporting their Stevenson uniforms and being coached up by their dad, leading the Patriots to the pinnacle of postseason boys basketball success.
That dream was starting to play out back in mid-March.
The Patriots were getting ready for their sectional championship basketball game against Mundelein, which was scheduled for Friday, March 13 at Prospect High School. Practice happened the day before on Thursday, as usual, but the world was anything but usual.
Fears of the COVID-19 pandemic were forcing all kinds of unprecedented decisions. Ultimately, the NBA suspended its season, the NCAA canceled March Madness, and then the IHSA canceled the rest of the boys state basketball tournament.
"There was just a sense of disbelief," Evan Ambrose said. "It was like, 'There's no way they can do this.' It didn't seem real, to be honest."
The reality of that decision not only ended every season and every postseason dream across the state that fateful day, it ended the Ambroses' dreams of having one last chance as a family to run as far, if not farther, in the tournament than they ever had before.
Last year, Stevenson was just a hair away from the state finals, losing to Evanston in a hotly contested supersectional.
This year, with Matthew as a senior, father and sons were hoping for an even better ending, a storybook ending. It would be their last chance, and essentially their only chance, with both boys in key roles. Last year, Evan got varsity minutes, but he was a reserve. This year, as a junior, he was a regular starter alongside Matthew.
"It means something special to have that experience of playing in the tournament, and making a good run, with your brother and your dad," Evan Ambrose said. "That is what you would remember 20 to 30 years from now when we're together as a family and talking about basketball."
The Ambroses and the Patriots never assumed anything though. Despite sweeping Mundelein during the regular season, they were ready for a battle in the sectional championship. They knew a win there was anything but a foregone conclusion.
And yet, they can't help but contemplate now what could have been had they won, had they kept going. They were confident about their team and about their readiness for a deep tournament run.
"There were a lot of good teams still in the tournament, so who knows what could have happened," Pat Ambrose said. "But we had a very good season. We won a conference championship. We had some really good wins against some really good teams, teams like York and Palatine and West Aurora and Loyola and of course, the two wins against Mundelein."
Had Stevenson been able to defeat Mundelein in the sectional championship, that would have set up a matchup with either Loyola or Evanston in the supersectional. The Patriots had already beaten Loyola earlier in the season and were clamoring to get another shot at Evanston.
"I thought we were playing well. The season was a success," Pat Ambrose said. "But at the same time, now you're missing that last piece of the puzzle. There's no closure. You wonder what might have been, and especially for Matthew and Evan. It was really fun for me to see them run out there together, to pass to each other and help each other. It was a dream come true to see them in a Patriot uniform together and you wish that could have kept going."
Matthew Ambrose is already on to his next uniform. He'll be playing at the University of Indianapolis next year. He has new challenges ahead.
But, he's pretty sure there will still be times that he will catch himself wondering.
"I just wish we could have kept going," Matthew Ambrose said. "It's frustrating to know that it will always be unfinished business. But my mom told me right away to find the positives. And that was hard at first. But at least Evan and me and my dad got the season together.
"I am grateful for that."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw