The Bubble Watch

Bubble Watch

Before we get to March Madness, we’ll spend the next few weeks watching the bubble.  We’ll hear about RPI, BPI, Power Conferences, Mid-Majors, the Last Four In, and the Last Four Out.  It’s a nerve-wracking time for college coaches as they ask “Are win in or are we out?”  Will the bubble burst?

BASKETBALL – Learning your fate.

I’ve experienced all of the possibilities.  I’ve been with teams whose fate was already secured, with teams anxiously waiting to hear their name and then deliriously celebrating when it is announced, with teams hoping for a chance but settling for the consolation of the NIT, and with teams that couldn’t find a bubble anywhere they looked.  In the end, however, you’re simply in or you’re out.  There’s no means of appeal and there’s no video replay.  You’re either in or you’re out.

Unfortunately for some coaches this year, being left out may mean that the bubble of a job is burst.  So much focus is placed on the final result, that many quality coaches with sound philosophies who help young people grow through the sport of basketball will be looking for other means to support their families.  So while we all watch with anticipation as the drama of the greatest spectacle in college sports unfolds, remember the hard realities that some coaches will face.  Having been in that situation myself, I urge you to let those coaches know their efforts have been appreciated!

LIFE – Are you ready for the bubble?

Life presents us with plenty of bubble moments as well.  How we handle those moments often defines who we are.  When things don’t go your way, how do you handle it?  Do you let a selection committee determine your true worth?  Do you give up or do you re-focus your effort for the next time?  When you come up short on a goal you’ve set can you redefine your goal and redirect your energy?  Each year, many college teams readjust their sights when the NCAA bubble bursts and they’re directed to the NIT.  Some will struggle to overcome disappointment and have a tough time.  Others will find new motivation and embark on what can be a truly exciting, worthwhile march against top-level opponents.  And other players and teams will use the sting of missing out on the post-season to redirect their focus to new challenges on and off the court.  There will be plenty of times when you find yourself on the bubble and I hope you find yourself in more than you’re left out, but either way, find the good!

FAITH – Are you in or out?

While there are bubbles in basketball and bubbles in life, you won’t find a bubble when it comes to what happens after life.  There’s no uncertainty.  There’s no resume required.  Your strength of schedule doesn’t matter and you don’t need a certain power index.  You’re either with God or you’re not.  You’re either in or you’re out as Jesus said (John 3:36)

36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

That’s good news, isn’t it?  You don’t have to go through the anxiety of wondering if you’ve done enough to get in.  God, through his mercy and grace, says you’re in if you believe.  There’s no bubble about it!


Hank Raymonds: The Ball is Golden

Hank Raymonds-IOne aspect of coaching at Marquette that I cherish was the opportunity to interact with some of my childhood heroes.  As a kid growing up in Milwaukee I was glued to our black & white television watching Al McGuire, Hank Raymonds, and Rick Majerus lead the Warriors.  I even rode my bike across the 35th Street viaduct to sneak a peek at the MU players and coaches outside the Old Gym.  Fast forward some twenty years and I found myself conversing with Coach Raymonds on a regular basis!

BASKETBALL – Protect the ball!

Hank replaced Al McGuire after Marquette won the 1977 NCAA Men’s Championship, served as the athletic director for several years, and by the time I got to Marquette was retired, but an avid supporter of our women’s team.  Hank left a lasting impression on me after a loss at Duke in which our team had more turnovers than a bakery!  He excitedly approached me, grabbed me by the shirt and pushed me against the wall – no, he didn’t really do that! – but he did put his Hank Raymonds-IIIhand on my shoulder and very passionately said “Jon, you have to teach them that the ball is golden!  You have to protect it.”  An old school remark, but one that has stuck with me and that I pull out with every team I coach.  That season, our staff took it to heart and we devoted time in every practice and shoot-around to taking care of the ball.  You can find some suggestions we used in The Ball is Golden Drills and Diagrams.  Simple, fundamental drills that helped strengthen our program.

LIFE – Protect your purity!

So what’s golden in your life?  What do you need to strive for and protect in your own life?  As I deal with young people, I am concerned more and more about the messages they are bombarded with about their sexuality.  What happened to saving yourself for marriage?  Is that an old school thought, too?  Young men are exposed today to many temptations and suggestions such as there’s nothing wrong with looking at porn on the internet – it doesn’t hurt anyone; you’re not a man if you’re not hooking up with as many women as you can; and it’s your right to pursue as much pleasure as you can.  Young women are told that men will let them down when it comes to commitment  so why not use your body to get what you can.  Need to feel loved and accepted?  Just use your body.  Am I touching a nerve?

My concern for our society involves the breakdown of the family.  With the explosion of the divorce rate, the movement to shun marriage and commitment, and the focus on self-gratification, our society is changing before our eyes and I believe much of it comes from a loss of purity – the purity that seeks to commit and share the deepest emotions and intimacy with one life-long partner.  Whether you’re married, hoping to be married, single, or divorced, if more of us would treat our purity like gold by protecting and preserving it we would help make a difference in our world.

FAITH – Keep your relationship with God pure.

While purity is a gift we can share with our spouse and a lack of purity can lead to pain for others in our lives, purity is really a matter between you and God.  Purity involves the quality of your personal relationship with your Savior and your Creator.  King David had every blessing anyone could want, yet by pursuing an illicit affair with a married woman and by hurting numerous people and relationships along the way (2 Samuel 11) the greatest error he made was in damaging his relationship with God.  After coming to grips with his indiscretion, David wrote Psalm 51 as a personal confession of the damage he did to his purity as he states (v. 4):

“Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight . . .”

Protect your moral purity as if it were gold, for it represents your relationship with God.  Practice and focus on keeping it pure, just as Coach Raymonds taught us to value the basketball.  It’s gold!


Will There Ever Be Another Jordan?

Jordan & KobeLast week as the media machine celebrated Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, I heard the question asked, “Will there ever be another Michael?”  The careers and accomplishments of players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were scrutinized and comparisons were made, but the inevitable conclusion by most commentators is that Michael Jordan is the best ever.  What I found most interesting, though, was recalling the uncanny way in which Kobe was able to copy even the smallest nuances of Michael’s game as displayed in Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, a video created on the Kobe Bryant – Our Legend Facebook page.  Is Kobe truly the second coming of MJ?  Most NBA experts say “no,” but it sure can be deceiving!


How often are basketball coaches looking for the next . . .?  The next Michael?  The next all-conference player?  It’s common for college recruiters to compare prospects to great players they’ve seen before or for high school coaches to anticipate the development of a player in their feeder programs developing into the next high school all-star.  Even though every player is different, coaches and fans fall into the trap of comparisons and the hope of the next great player.  Some are able to live up to it, but tragically many are not, and a disservice is done to them


Aren’t we all looking for the next great thing or even the return of something great from the past?  We flock to remakes of great movies and debate which version was better.  We compare our political leaders to those of the past and hope the next one can restore programs from the past.  And many times, rather than appreciate what we have and what we experience in the present, we long for things of the past.  We compare what we have now with what we had then and we hope and long for those times when the new version surpasses the original.


For Christians, we don’t have to ask if there will ever be another Jesus.  We can read the scripture and marvel at the life of sacrifice, perfection, and mercy He lived and be certain that it will never be duplicated – even though voices in our world will doubt and question or even attempt to mislead and confuse us.  We’ll be told that Jesus is a myth or that we should place our trust in other things like political leaders, government programs, and the advancement of mankind through technology and tolerance of new morality.  Jesus told His disciples and He tells us in Matthew 24 to be alert for when He returns.  Many who will be looking for the next big thing may miss Him.  They may be misled, but fortunately in the end, we will know that it truly is Jesus (v. 30):

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.

While basketball fans ask if there will ever be another Michael or continue to compare Kobe and Michael or LeBron and Michael, we as Christians can live confidently and expectantly that Jesus will return.  And when He does, we won’t have to play the comparison game – we’ll know it!