- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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There's no other way to say this. I'm a big sap.
I cry at most movies, even the lousy ones. I can't get through "Parenthood" on Tuesday nights without a stack of tissues. During the days leading up to my daughter's high school graduation last year, I was a weepy, sniffling mess.
And don't even talk to me about "Toy Story 3." Wait, I think I have something in my eye.
I'm a sucker for a romantic ending, a sad plot twist or a heartfelt speech, but it's the "lasts" that always get me in the worst way.
Knowing that something is fleeting, preparing to disappear or change, never to return again, is an emotional killer.
So I relate to the basketball fans across the country who will spend the next three weeks with a lump in their throats preparing for the final college games of Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne.
All season long, ESPN has promoted the trio as the "3 To See," but time is running out on the show, the curtain is getting ready to fall.
Griner, Diggins and Delle Donne are the types of talents who don't come along often, magnetic young women who have stayed true to themselves and stayed close to their hometowns, where they are most beloved, revered and celebrated. And they have thrived at an extraordinary level.
But now, they are on the countdown to the end.
OK, so it's not the end-end. They will all go on to play professional basketball in the WNBA and overseas, years, maybe a decade or more left on their athletic careers.
But by the time this three-week tournament is over, they will never again don their college uniforms, associations that represent the defining era of their young careers and their lives.
Many athletes will tell you that their college years were the best time of their lives and that they miss it terribly. As they move on past graduation, they pine for that time when their team and their teammates were the center of the universe, when the goals were clear-cut and uncomplicated by the responsibilities of adulthood. It was simple and great.
Griner, Diggins and Delle Donne will move forward, and they will probably do remarkable things -- who doesn't picture any of the three of them winning WNBA championships or getting Olympic gold medals around their necks at some point? But they will never again play for their school.
We invest in these players, particularly on the women's side, because we have them for four (or more) years. We become familiar, but beyond that, we become attached. They are here so long that we not only get to witness their experience, but they become part of our experience. And we don't want our experience to end, not when it has been this good.
So sit back and appreciate these next three weeks and feel free to ponder what you have been privileged to watch.
Watch Griner move deftly in the paint, find a way to score over either shoulder, put up those long arms and make life miserable for anyone looking to make a shot within 12 feet of the basket.
Keep your eye on Diggins and her incredible will to win. Watch her dish and slash and pump up her teammates with that steely gaze that only sees victory at the end of the day.
And appreciate Delle Donne, with her smooth dribble, her court presence and such agility and grace for a player her size.
When they come off the floor for the last time, pay tribute, stand up, cheer loudly. Say thank you in the ways that only true fans can.
You will see them again someday, but not like this, not in the place where they defined their careers, not in the uniforms that established their identities as some of the best to ever play.
And if you tend to get a little misty-eyed, keep a little Kleenex in your pocket and avoid eye contact with the person standing next to you. It always works for me.
At some point in the next three weeks, the college careers of Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner will end. So savor their last college games while you can.