March Madness: Last Possession Magic

WarriorsAs we approach the best time of the year, March Madness, conference tournaments and high school playoffs will supply a grab bag of high intensity, down to the last possession finishes.  We spent time in earlier posts on this site looking at Decision-Making (see Desperation), but let’s take a closer look at what actually happens when a coach calls a timeout to address a crucial last possession.

BASKETBALL – It’s all in your hands, Coach!

It’s a back and forth game.  Your team trails by two and just called timeout with 25 seconds left in the game.  We’re often led to believe that the coach must be drawing up some magic, miraculous play that secures the victory.  Does that really happen? It may – especially on the professional level where the rules of the game provide night after night of last possession situations, but the great thing about basketball is that so many factors come into play that none of us can predict.  Rarely does the possession go as the coach intended – as I’m writing, Illinois has just beaten Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament on a final shot by Brandon Paul: 

I don’t think that game ended exactly how each coach planned, but John Groce’s Illini were prepared ahead of time.  And minutes later, Charlotte beats Richmond in the Atlantic Ten tournament when Richmond’s Chris Mooney had his team foul with a three-point lead and 4.7 seconds remaining.  Three technical fouls later and Richmond loses by five!  Click NBC Sports to watch for yourself.   How do you plan for that?

Let’s get this straight.  It rarely goes to form and the perfect execution of a last second designed play rarely wins a game.  Why?  There are just too many variables out of a coach’s control, such as the attention of the players, the emotions of the players, the decisions of officials, the strategy of the other team, and the funny way the ball bounces!  As discussed in earlier posts, you can position your team for success by how you practice and how you prepare for your opponent.  You can even improve your skills in handling huddle situations and how you talk to your players.  Check out Coaching The Crucial Time Out on for some great ideas or check for ideas from a coaching legend like Pete Newell.  And finally, important decisions like when to foul and when to look for a three-point shot should be worked out as you prepare for a game.  On offense, it’s helpful to have a set that can be used against any type of defense, since you can’t control what the other team will do, and that can get you whatever type of score you need.  One example is TRIPLE – Last Possession Play.  You can prepare your team ahead of time for how each option can be adjusted for defensive variables.

Even with a plan like Chris Mooney had today for his Spiders, there are many things that you can’t control.  The TV cameras even showed Mooney drawing up where and when he wanted his players to foul.  I don’t think he ever envisioned what would happen next!

LIFE – Can you plan for everything?

The same is true in the game of life.  In the craziness of our society, it certainly helps to have a plan, to set goals, and to prepare for the future, but being flexible, learning how to adapt, and handling the ups and downs are essential for every aspect of life.  I’m not a psychologist or a counselor and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I do know that life is exciting and rewarding when we learn to handle the unexpected situations that will come our way!

FAITH – Make your plans, but trust in God.

Not only should we expect the unexpected, but we’re also taught by Solomon in Proverbs 16:9 to understand a basic truth in life:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

Just as a coach draws things up, clearly communicates a plan, or does a fantastic job preparing a team for pressure situations, we can make all the plans we want for our lives.  But in the end, God is the one who determines what outcomes are most helpful in drawing us closer to Him.  The uncertainties and unpredictability of life remind us over and over again of our need for His guidance and direction.


2 thoughts on “March Madness: Last Possession Magic

  1. HI, Jon,
    I saw this posted on my Linked In updates! Congratulations on creating this insightful blog and sharing the Gospel! You are amazing and so is God!

    • Thanks, Mary! I feel over the years I’ve learned so many things through basketball and in my faith journey. It seems only right to share it! Please pass the site on.

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