Burke and the Wolverines Gain New Life in the Sweet Sixteen

Originally, I thought I would close the computer to reflect on what this Easter weekend is truly about and maybe enjoy a little basketball on the side, but when Trey Burke hit his shot to give Michigan new life against the Kansas Jayhawks last night, I had to bring it up.  It’s just like Easter.  I have to bring it up!

BASKETBALL – How did Trey Burke save Michigan?

Jay Bilas mentions in his book Toughness that when he asked Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski what element of toughness is most underemphasized, his quick, direct response was “Persistence” – the ability to keep going without giving up or giving in.  That’s the element displayed by Burke and the Wolverines.  The other keys to take away from Burke’s post-game comments were:

1.  Practice sticking with it –  Burke said the Wolverines play from behind every day in practice so they know they can do it.

2.  Stay together – When facing difficult circumstances, teams that come together can do amazing things.

3.  Focus on the process – Burke’s remark that Michigan is not finished indicates the team still has more to accomplish and the Kansas win is one smaller part of that.

4.  Respond to the situation – Kansas limited Burke’s penetration early in the game, which meant he had to look for his teammates.  As the game progressed, Burke’s coach encouraged him to be more aggressive, which lead to the late game turnaround!

Michigan gained new life in those final three minutes of regulation and then sealed the deal in overtime.  I’m sure Big Blue fans, as well as coaches all over the country will be recounting this amazing comeback for years to come.  It’s an amazing story of redemption!

LIFE – Don’t we all need a little redemption?

I know this is an easy parallel to draw, so forgive me for stating the obvious.  I’m not trying to insult your intelligence or trivialize the struggles of life, but you have to love this story, right?  In this life we all will find moments when time is running out and we’re headed for trouble.  We all face those moments when we need to just hang in there, lean on our trusted sources of support, and respond to the situation.  We may have a relationship with struggles, an unstable job situation, or any number of frustrations that seem like we’re close to having the clock run out, but when we value persistence, more often than not we find ways to survive.  It may not always be like we planned or bring the exact results we want, but we can survive and we can grow.  For similar inspiration, take a look at ESPN’s fantastic 30 for 30 production of Survive and Advancethe story of both the 1983 NCAA Championship NC State team and the subsequent death of their coach, Jim Valvano (don’t worry, there’s a ton of material for future posts!).

FAITH – Waiting for Redemption

Most people know the story of this weekend.  As Christians we remember the death of our Savior Jesus on the cross and then celebrate the amazing story of His rising from the dead on Easter.  It’s the true story of redemption!  Trey Burke’s resurrecting the Wolverines pales in comparison.  Redemption, though, is what this weekend is all about, so I’m glad for the reminder and I’m anxious to see what Michigan does with their new life.

For me, this weekend provides the ultimate emotional roller coaster.  We feel the depths of despair on Friday as we recall the agony Jesus experienced for us, but then celebrate with the amazing story of His resurrection that provides new life fr ALL of us!  In the meantime, though, it’s Saturday and we have to wait.  We already know what will happen, but we have to wait.  In fact, that’s what life is – it’s Saturday.  I love Pastor Pete’s Wilson’s explanation Stuck In Saturday.  

As you wait through Saturday, enjoy some good basketball, but take a look at the true story of redemption and new life in Luke 23:44-24:12.


Who Takes The Fall For A Loss In The NCAA Tournament?


As the NCAA Tournaments move on to the Sweet Sixteen, most of what we’ll hear will be about the teams that have survived, but you can learn a lot about coaches and their programs by listening in on their press conferences after they lose. The NCAA links press conferences, game highlights, and special features on their March Madness Video Hub for the men, while press conferences for the women can be found at NCAA Women’s Basketball Press Conferences. While most of the coaches are polished in their remarks, occasionally the curtain is lifted and you see more!

BASKETBALL – How do teams handle losing in the  NCAA Tournament?

As I watched the press conferences after teams were eliminated, a typical pattern emerged.  In their opening remarks, most of the coaches credit their opponent and then praise their team’s effort during the season, using a pretty standard script.  That’s followed by a short period of questions for a player or two – these can be fascinating to watch.  The athletes leave the podium and the head coach then fields more direct questions about the game.  Their answers give a brief glimpse at their in-game thoughts and observations, but most of the coaches are pretty polished and guarded in their responses as they steer clear of saying anything controversial.  Since it’s very difficult to process a sudden end to the season, it’s amazing to watch their composure.

I heard comments about parity in the game, the implementation of the Flagrant One foul, and conference realignment, but was most interested to see how many coaches truly take the responsibility for their team’s loss.  Not many do.  There are a lot of explanations, rationalizations, and suggestions, but most of the coaches fall back on “it just wasn’t our night.”  One coach who did step up was Butler’s Brad Stevens, who I wrote about in a previous post, In Game Clinics.  When the Bulldogs couldn’t score a basket with 2.4 seconds remaining in their loss to Marquette, Stevens took responsibility by saying “I need to do a better job of simplifying it for them out of a timeout . . . that one will eat at me for a while.”

Believe me, I feel for these coaches and have had similar experiences.  Many are taking time now to assess exactly what happened in their loss and rarely jump in quickly to take the fall for their team.  Stevens, however, did.

This past week, ESPN aired an extended conversation between two Hall of Fame Coaches, Bob Knight and Geno Auriemma.  There’s a lot of good information to consider, but pay close attention to the 3:00 mark when they discuss “Coaches lose more games than they win games.”

Both coaches agree that a coach needs to take responsibility for the losses and as Brad Stevens suggests, use that loss to get better as a coach and help your team get better in the future.

LIFE – Who takes the fall for your mistakes?

I’ve mentioned before John Miller’s terrific book QBQ, in which he discusses personal accountability.  ESPN analyst Jay Bilas echos the idea of accountability in his new book Toughness.  Today’s society seems to be forgetting the idea of accountability. Most of us are quick to explain away our mistakes, blame others, and make excuses.  I see it as I deal with college students and their study habits.  Many are quick to find fault with an instructor or to question the need to even take a particular course. They’ll go to great lengths to shift the focus off their own effort.  What about you?  Do you take the fall for your own mistakes?  How often do you blame other people or blame your circumstances?  As Bobby and Geno suggest, take ownership for what you can control!

FAITH – Jesus has already taken the fall!

As we move on to the Sweet Sixteen this week, we also have the opportunity to reflect upon the most amazing fall of all.  God chose His only son, Jesus, to take the burden for all of our losses, disappointments, and mistakes.  Whether you believe in Jesus or not, this is a week to consider what happens at the end of this life.  Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus took our place on a Roman cross.  Maybe you’ve seen the images in a movie like Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ or you’ve wondered why churches make such a big deal of it.  I’m not sure how any of us cannot be moved to consider the significance and I pray that you will reflect on the incredible sacrifice Jesus has made.  Michael W. Smith’s popular version of the song Above All sums it quite well:

Like a rose, trampled on the ground

You took the fall and thought of me

Above all.




Attacking Pressure in the Opening Rounds of the Tournament

UMMarch Madness doesn’t disappoint does it? There’s a little something for everyone – amazing finishes, Cinderella upsets, touching personal stories, and for all of us – players, coaches, and fans, a grab bag of lessons to draw from.  After the pre-tournament hype about the pressure defenses played by teams like Louisville and VCU, I went into this past weekend looking to see how teams would deal with pressure and it reinforced what I believe as a coach and as a Christian that it’s better to attack pressure than it is to attempt to handle pressure.

BASKETBALL – Attacking Pressure

Three games offer perfect illustrations of dealing with pressure.  Michigan not only has terrific athletes, but John Beilein’s players executed with spacing and press break principles that consistently attacked the heart of VCU’s press.  They stayed on high alert and relied on teamwork to make VCU pay for their Havoc style.  Bruce Pearl broke it down well on ESPN:

 CSUColorado State on the other hand, failed to attack Louisville’s press and put too much responsibility on one or two players to deal with the Cardinals’ relentless pressure.

And finally, a surprise for all of us was watching Florida Gulf Coast surge in the second half against both Georgetown and San Diego State. The Eagles protected their leads by attacking a variety of FGCUdesperate traps.  It’s easy to fall in love with the lob dunks and the three-point bombs of the Eagles, but as you break it down, FGCU used exceptional spacing, proper positioning against traps, and unselfish passing to secure their spot in the Sweet Sixteen.

Going into the tournament, I took a closer look at VCU’s heralded Havoc defense by watching VCU Basketball’s Full Court Press Highlights.  Coaches, take look at these examples and see how your plan would address the situations highlighted in the video.  It’s a helpful exercise, even if you don’t see the type of athletes that Shaka Smart can throw at you!  Here are some basic principles for Attacking Pressure Defenses of any kind:

1. Awareness

2. Coordinated spacing and positioning

3.  Stay away from trouble areas

4.  Attack the defense

My philosophy of attacking pressure has developed from past failures of handling pressure and by learning how other coaches prepare their teams. Many of my teaching points are influenced by hearing former Wake Forest coach, Dave Odom, in several coaching clinics and from watching a young  Sean Miller, Arizona’s head coach, when he first worked on the men’s staff at Wisconsin for Stu Jackson.  Odom taught team principles and how to use a big man like Tim Duncan, while Sean is one of the best I’ve seen at teaching the finer points of point guard play and its role in attacking pressure (Take a quick look at a clip from Miller’s Beating Pressure DVD).  Coaches, check out my notes and diagrams for Attacking Pressure.

LIFE – The pressure that all of us have to handle.

Kara and I are parents of three teenagers.  We feel immense responsibility to teach our kids how to deal with peer pressure.  If we don’t have a plan and if we assume they’ll figure it out for themselves or we push it off to their teachers and coaches, our teens will give in to negative pressure.  Pressure from peers, though, is a challenge for all of us, no matter how old we are.  Retired NFL coach, Tony Dungy is committed to inspiring today’s parents.  Here’s his take on peer pressure:

Just like basketball, use the same concepts to attack peer pressure by staying alert, having a plan, staying away from trouble in the first place, and then going on the attack to deal with it.

FAITH – Christians must have a plan to deal with growing pressure.

Throughout history, Christians have been under attack from the culture they live in.  Don’t kid yourself.  You have to be on guard and you have to be ready and willing to attack that pressure.  As our culture addresses moral issue likes alternative life-styles, abortion, and debt management, each of us will be pressured to accept views contrary to God’s Word.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as we are instructed in 1 Peter 5:8:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Get a plan for attacking that pressure.  Stay in the word and grow in your faith and knowledge and have a reason for the faith that you have.  My friend Brad Alles is devoting his work to helping young people, and the rest of us, develop a plan for defending our faith.  Check out his blog for valuable inspiration and information for attacking the pressures from our society!