TUTTLE — The phrase “bucket list” has become so referenced, it almost seems a little trite. Making a list of things to do before you die has become a way of expressing wishes and dreams of the future, maybe even the distant future.
When Tuttle boys basketball coach Paul Meuser used the phrase Friday night, it came with some weight, the almost tangible heft of goals a man has his mind set on accomplishing.
Meuser spent three days in the hospital last week, undergoing a battery of tests. He had a blood transfusion to boost his struggling immune system. He had a bone marrow biopsy and is awaiting the results that could tell him he has cancer.
He was released from the hospital Thursday evening and cleared to coach his team Friday. And he hopes to coach them again on March 13 — the first day of the Class 4A state tournament.
“I told the kids before the game (Friday), ‘I've been on my death bed this week, but I had one thing I needed to do, and that was to come coach you guys,'” Meuser said. “The Tuttle boys have never been to state. Not once. So that's on my bucket list. I'd just like to see these kids have that opportunity.”
Meuser's son, daughter and their spouses were in the bleachers directly behind his seat on the bench for Friday night's district playoff victory over Bethany. His daughter, Melanie — the wife of NFL quarterback Brandon Weeden — is pregnant with the couple's first child, due in July.
“It was such a blessing to have my kids here at the game,” Meuser said. “My first grandchild is on the way. I've just got so many blessings.”
And he counts a pretty darn good basketball team among them.
Meuser's state tournament pursuit isn't a personal one. He's been to state as a coach before. In fact, he won it all four times at Preston, lost in the finals with Norman, and took Moore to the dance once as well.
But he hasn't been able to bring Tuttle that first-ever trip to State Fair Arena. And Meuser wants this group of players to be the first.
“We talk about how we want to be the first team at Tuttle that's ever gone to state, and do something that no one else has ever done here,” junior guard Tyler Lester said. “It was a big relief having Coach back.
“On Tuesday night, we played without him, and I think we were worrying about him. A blood transfusion is a pretty big deal, even though he was saying, ‘Aww, it's nothing.' Having him back on the bench meant a lot.”
The next step in the Tigers' state tournament pursuit comes at 8 p.m. Thursday, when Tuttle hosts a regional winner's bracket game. A win that night guarantees them a spot in the area tournament March 6-8. Three straight wins will put them in the Big House.
With a 21-2 record, Tuttle has actually been flying under the radar much of the season, only recently cracking the top 10. Now ranked eighth in Class 4A, the Tigers are ready for their shot at a state tournament run.
And Meuser, with the familiar smile that couldn't be any bigger, is ready to enjoy the ride.
“I've got great kids on this team, just quality people. I want to see them succeed,” he said. “I've always said it when I was healthy that Jesus is my savior, and whatever he needs — you know, he might need a coach, I don't know.
“I've got great doctors. I've got great kids on my team. I've got my family here with me. I'm a blessed man.”