Racing to the airport in the back seat of a taxi, his hair still damp from the swimming pool, Jean Basson would get text messages from his Arizona teammates.
Something like: WE GOING 2 B CHAMPS!
Or, while sitting on the tarmac, awaiting a 19-hour flight to South Africa: WE WON IT ALL!
On one of the best days of his life, when Arizona won the 2008 NCAA men's swimming championship, Jean Basson, celebrated in absentia, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, or as he defines being part of a national championship team "over the moon."
Basson didn't experience the celebratory dinner or the welcome-home party, didn't pose for the team picture, didn't see his coach, Frank Busch, thrown into the pool in the ceremonial dunking of the championship coach.
All the way to South Africa, all Basson had were those joyful voice messages and the happy texts: WE'RE NO. 1!
"I'm pretty sad about that," he says now. "I'd see pictures of the team in some billboards around Tucson. I know I was part of it, but I missed so much."
But the Olympics waits for no man, so two days after Arizona won the NCAA title Basson was in the water on the other side of the world, successfully qualifying for South Africa's 2008 Olympic team in an odyssey he'll remember if he lives to be 100.
Three months later, the UA sophomore was crouched on the starting block in Beijing, China, maybe 10 yards to the right of gold medal star Michael Phelps in the finals of the 200-meter freestyle. Basson would place fourth, 0.83 of a second from the bronze medal.
"It was the biggest sporting stage in the world," he remembers. "I was able to savor the moment. I still watch it on a DVD; it is good inspiration. It pumps me up a lot."
In two weeks, the camera will be rolling again. Basson is a senior co-captain of the No. 1 ranked Arizona men's swimming team, and this time he won't have to rush from an afternoon preliminary to catch a flight to anywhere.
This time he might be the last man in the water in the most significant race of the college swimming season. It is a scenario he embraces.
"After the Pac-10 finals Saturday night, Jean stood before his teammates and told them to count on him," Busch says. "He wanted us to know that his best is yet to come."
Jean Basson is one of the 10 or 15 best swimmers in UA history, which is a lot like being one of the 10 or 15 best basketball players, or softball players, in UA history. The scope and tradition of Busch's program is so powerful that it's silly to attempt to rank them.
About the best way to describe Basson's impact at Arizona is to say that he's one of the five best South Africans ever to swim for the Wildcats. It's like being part of a royal family.
Over the last 15 years, Basson and fellow South Africans Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend have combined to win 22 NCAA championships for Arizona: that's 13 individual titles and nine relay events.
Neethling begat Schoeman, who begat Ferns, who begat Townsend, who begat Basson.
"I was always going to come to America, and I only considered two options - Arizona or Cal," Basson says. "Obviously, all of the South African guys had done well here. Why wouldn't you want to train where they did? They all reached their goals."
If Basson isn't the leading performer in college swimming, he isn't far down the list. He is the defending NCAA champion in the 500 freestyle, and no one would raise an eyebrow if he won national titles in the 200 freestyle and the 1,650 freestyle. His value is compounded because he is so good in the relays, which are worth double points.
"He's a difference-maker," Busch says. "Jean is the epitome of a strong leader and good teammate. As a coach, you consider yourself fortunate every day to have people like Jean on your team."
This UA team is top-heavy with All-Americans. Cory Chitwood, Jack Brown, Joel Greenshields, Jake Tapp and Marcus Titus, among others, are names of national impact. What seems to be the key at Arizona is that Busch and his coaches have made it a team sport, rather than a "hey-look-at-me" exercise, and that's where Basson excels.
In his media guide bio, Basson says, "the most powerful thing that I have learned is how amazing it is to swim for something greater than yourself."
It is the same kind of message former Wildcat All-Americans and NCAA champions Albert Subirats, Adam Ritter and Simon Burnett imparted. It is much of the reason Arizona won the 2008 national title and came so close in 2007 (third) and 2006 (second).
Now it is Basson's time to lead.
"I get more nervous for the NCAA finals than I do for the Olympic finals, or a World Championship final," he says. "It just feels like there's so much more riding on it. This is my favorite time of the year."
• When: March 25-27
• Where: Columbus, Ohio