As we open the presents under the Selection tree and look at the teams chosen for this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, I recall the Pre-ESPN years. When UCLA was winning year after year, most of us knew very little about the other participants. In fact, we usually didn’t get to see games outside of our region. Tom Hager’s book, The Ultimate Book of March Madness: The Players, Games, and Cinderellas that Captivated a Nation captures it well. As a basketball junkie growing up, what made the tournament compelling was watching the different styles of play. With so many teams foreign to us, the NCAA Tournament was a lesson in creativity and innovation. Today, it often seems rare for teams to bring unique or innovating styles, but every once in a while, somebody breaks the mold.
BASKETBALL – Teams that make it interesting.
Here are four examples of innovations brought to light by the NCAA Tournament:
1. Texas Western (1966): Don Haskins’ team was the first to start five black players when they beat Kentucky in the Championship game.
2. Loyola Marymount (1988-90): Paul Westhead engineered a +100 point scoring offense that resulted in three straight NCAA appearances and the miraculous run to the Sweet Sixteen after the death of Hank Gathers.
3. Princeton (1996): Pete Carril’s high post, backdoor offense was all the rage after his Tigers upset the defending champ, UCLA.
4. Baylor Lady Bears (2010-2013): 6’8″ Brittney Griner is changing the women’s game like Lew Alcindor did in the late 60’s. If you truly love basketball, it’s fascinating to watch teams deal with Griner. She’s making some of the same adjustments that Kareem did!
As a coach, I consider why a coach chooses to play a unique style. Why do they do what they’re doing? Is there a reason why they break from conformity? Aside from picking who will advance and debating who got left out, what I’m looking for in the brackets are innovations that I can evaluate – not to replace what I believe, but to keep me fresh, reinforce how I go about the game, and to look for new perspectives to consider. It’s not wise to simply abandon an approach to copy an innovator, but investigating the purpose and techniques is an important part of evaluating your approach to the game and asking yourself why you teach what you teach.
So who will it be this year? VCU and Shaka Smart‘s swarming full-court defense? Or will some team come up with an innovative game plan to contend with a phenomenal player like Creighton’s Doug McDermott? That’s what I’m looking for in the brackets – innovation.
LIFE – It’s helpful to look for innovation.
After twenty years of life on the recruiting trail and years of a family background of mat and potatoes, I’ve had to choose to eat healthier. It’s a constant struggle, but one that I’m beginning to enjoy. The media explosion has helped. It brings a constant supply of new innovations and techniques. Admittedly, there’s nothing better than watching an episode of Man vs. Food with my kids, but I’m also surfing the cooking channels to find better, cheaper, and healthier ways to cook! In our house, we all have our favorites and we can’t stray too much from what’s inexpensive and healthy, but I’m always going to consider other options. Despite my son’s belief, man cannot live on frozen pizza every night!
FAITH – Why do we do what we do?
Sometimes, the church searches for innovation. In fact, as society changes, we need innovation to remain relevant. While I’ve been a life-long member of a traditional church denomination, I’m thankful for the Lord’s leading me to explore other styles of worship and ministry. Sports ministries like FCA and AIA, worship experiences like Promise Keepers and Passion, and the exposure to other church messages through technology have helped me grow deeper in my personal faith. As I look at innovations in the faith, I also look inward to assess my personal relationship with Christ. I value the traditions of my church, but I never want to underestimate the significance they hold in helping me understand the saving grace that only Jesus provides and I don’t want to participate in worship without understanding why I’m doing what I’m doing. Jesus told the church leaders of His time:
“. . .You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9)
As you watch the tournament, watch for the purpose of innovations and as you grow in faith, ask God to help you sort through the innovations of our day to strengthen your understanding of Him!