Upsets Reveal There’s Always A Chance

Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of basketball, how can you not be excited this week with the terrific upsets around the country?  Just last night, the top team in the country, Villanova, was upset on their home floor by a St. John’s team that had yet to win a conference game and amazingly had just beaten the No. 4 team in the country on Saturday.  We’ll dive into that a bit more, but last night also provided two more upsets when  No. 3 Purdue lost on their home court to Ohio State, and No. 8 Auburn lost on their home court to Texas A&M.  It’s getting late in the season as we anticipate March and many teams would seem to be out of it, but this week’s upsets reveal that a team is never truly out of it until the last horn sounds and it’s a significant reminder to all of us to stay steadfast in life and in our faith.  After all, there’s always a chance!

BASKETBALL – Turning it Around

St. John’s did something Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center that, statistically, they had a 3 percent chance to do. The likelihood of back-to-back top-five upsets was roughly 0.3 percent. There is no logical explanation for this, and no proper reaction other than amazement.  Here’s what happened in Philly last night:

So how did they do it?  Let’s take a quick listen to some of head coach Chris Mullin’s comments after the two upset wins:

As I take a look at these comments, I see embedded in them some significant points for any team attempting to dig out of a hole and to be in a position to pull off monumental upsets.  The story is continually repeated throughout college basketball and undoubtedly will continue to be a major story line as we approach the madness of March, but consider these essential points from Mullin (who by the way was also a terrific player at SJU and in the NBA!)

Just persevere

Stay together

Keep a positive frame of mind

Be accountable

Learn from the losses

 

Currently, our team has hit a rough patch with three losses in a row in games in which we had late leads.  We just haven’t pulled those games out and things haven’t gone our way.   Now we must win our last three games to qualify for the postseason.  As I left practice yesterday, though, I knew our team still has a chance.  Just like St. John’s, we have time to turn it around, and Mullin’s points now echo in my head.

LIFE – Climb Out of the Hole

Do you ever need a pep talk?  I often think that I don’t until I start to address our team.  I can get passionate about a lot of things and when I get going I can drop a lot of wisdom, some really good stuff that’s been stored up in my brain and then I realize, I was the one who needed the talk.  The players usually do, too, but I’m right there with them.  Here’s the point.  If you dug yourself a hole, climb out of it!  Persevere, stay connected with the important people in your life, remain positive, be accountable, and learn from your losses and setbacks.  All of us have areas of life where at times we feel we’ve dug a hole – finances, relationships, careers, fitness, or studies, but as long as you have life and as long as the sun comes up, you can do something about it.  It may be simply staying the course like St. John’s or it may require some drastic changes, but each of us has the power to hang in there.  And if you can hang in there, can you then give a little bit more?  Ten percent more?  A little more effort, a little more focus, a little more service?  There’s always a chance for you to pull off the upset!

FAITH – There’s Always a Chance

What about your faith life?  Most of us tend to dig some holes there, too.  Some of us ignore God’s promptings and call and some of us turn our backs on the faith we knew as youngsters.  We often twist and confuse God’s word or worse, we listen to the voices around us in the world today.  We may feel that God has abandoned us and we lose faith.  We may feel guilty over our own actions or how we treat other people and we fall into the hole of feeling that God could never love us or forgive us.  Or if you’re like me, you may fall into the hole of life.  I can get so focused on the stress and pressure of different roles that I neglect the one relationship that is more important to me than any other.

As I write today, I’m in pep talk mode and want to remind you, and myself, that our God is the God of upsets.  You may feel you’ve dug a few holes, but Jesus knows all about that.  He knows we’re each going to have our ups and downs, our unique challenges, and our failings in this life, but He never abandons us and He is always with us.  There is no upset too big and no holes to deep for Him:

 Jesus looked straight at them and said, “There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything.”  Matthew 19:26

When you see an upset happen on the court let it remind you that Jesus can help you pull off the upset.  No matter what you’ve done or how far away you have drifted and no matter how influenced by the world around you, there’s always a chance for God to pull the upset – in fact, it’s better than a chance.  It’s a promise.

 

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The Best Little Tournament You’ve Never Heard Of

This weekend our school, Concordia University Wisconsin, will host the 68th Concordia Invitational at our campus.  Each year, men’s and women’s teams from four sister schools in the Midwest gather for one of the most intensely competitive weekends a small college basketball player can experience.  With strong rivalries and shared alumni bases, the tournament has a history of last-minute finishes, upsets, and wonderful opportunities for fellowship centered around basketball.  3 Point Wisdom has shared many lessons from the tournament, beginning with this guest article from our 2014 CUW Captain, Noah Kegley (In addition, following Noah’s explanation of what Concordia means, I’ve linked a few more past articles from the tournament that will provide a glimpse of the Best Little Tournament You’ve Never Heard Of):

Kegley_Noah(1)_120313As a pre-seminary studies major, I am all too familiar with studying, whether it’s theology or parsing obscure verb forms, it’s what I do. With high hopes of attending one of our synod’s fine seminaries in the fall, one night over Christmas break I forcefully locked my uneager self in my dorm room and began to do what I do best – study. I was paging through a thick, heavy, and loaded doctrine text in order to pass a qualifying test for my admittance to seminary. I took hours attempting to slay the beast, and my energy plummeted by the minute. My interest wavered the further along I read. What seemed like centuries later, the end was near, the amount of pages I needed to read before I finished was so close I tucked myself underneath my covers. Then it hit me. It was one of those light bulb moments in the cartoons. I scanned across a term in my textbook that resonated with me. The term was concord, in Latin it’s concordia. According to my textbook, the word means “from the heart,” and “refers to the desire to bring about full union and understanding in the Christian church through a common confession of doctrine and not simply an external unity.” I realized that concord has everything to do with basketball.

BASKETBALL – From the heart!

As a member of the Concordia University Wisconsin’s men’s basketball team, half of my wardrobe says Concordia. However, merely wearing the name Concordia does not cut it. Basketball is more than a jersey, or an external unity. Unity is found in the heart. Just as it is with the Christian church on earth to strive for one confession of faith, that is, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our team strives for one confession, one heart, and one goal, a championship.  This is easier said than done. It’s at this point in the season where it’s easy to shred a team’s concordia. Hearts grow dull in practice, ears ignore a coach’s constructive words, and our eyes roll when we are told we mess up again. Players begin to get tired of the same drills, coaches getting on their case, various forms of injuries, inter-squad issues, the list continues. If a team is merely a group of guys wearing a jersey with the same name and colors on it, forget it! It no longer has concordia.  But, the teams that maintain their oneness, in other words, their concordia, are the teams playing deep into March. Coaches can scout a team to the finest of details, simulate as many game-like situations in practice, and give as many pre-game pep talks as they like, but it’s ultimately up to the players on the floor to execute the game plan. Concordia on the basketball court must come “from the heart” of each player on the team.

LIFE – Family Unity

Kegley KidsWhen I was growing up at home life was similar to a zoo with all of the different activities we had. My parents were constantly driving us around to different places and my two younger sisters practically grew up at my soccer tournaments. Our family also saw health issues with my father, and in the midst of all of the craziness, our parents are the glue that held our family’s concordia together. No matter what the situation was, and still is today, we are still Team Kegley through it all. All of our hearts are together. We have each other’s back.

FAITH – Unity of Believers

When Adam and Eve sinned, humanity became separated from God. It’s part of our sinful nature to separate ourselves from God. We try to tuck away those sins which we think are not so bad, or puff ourselves up to make ourselves feel better than what we are. We do not understand what it means to be concordia.  In Matthew 13 Jesus speaks to crowds using parables. The disciples asked why Christ speaks using these parables. Jesus says, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13:13). We are like the crowds and do not understand what it means to be concordia  with one another because of our sinful nature. Thankfully, through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we now have Concordia with God and eagerly await eternal life with Him in heaven. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and we can live with our hearts together in serving Him.

“ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from live, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

Noah is currently a fourth year seminary student who is anxiously awaiting placement in a congregation in the coming year and truly embodies not only the Concordia spirit, but also a sense of 3 Point Wisdom as he has gained valuable wisdom through his lifelong participation in basketball!

CITThe Concordia Invitational Tournament brings together four institutions from the Concordia University system.  All four teams will wear Concordia on their uniforms, but year after year, the champion is the team that best plays from the heart and plays with unity!  Here’s a look at some other CIT-related articles:

Photo by Jordan Vredeveld

CIT: A Taste of the Big Time

Injured or Not, You’re Invited (CIT 2015)

CIT 2017: Is There Such A Thing As Friendly Competition?

Basketball: It’s Not Just For Big Guys

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Open Up the Floor!

I ran into an issue a few weeks ago in a couple of our games.  We typically play with one true post player on the floor and surround him with four guards.  It provides the basics of our offense, but in two consecutive games both our starting center and his back-up picked up early fouls.  After playing an inexperienced freshman in the first game, who also picked up fouls, the decision was made for defensive reasons to play without a center.  It allows us to switch everything and disrupt our opponent by flying around a bit, however, our offensive structure and principles of playing around a center who posts up and screens for the ball deteriorate quickly.  In both games we attempted to run our normal actions with a guard playing the center role, but after taking a closer look at it on film I realized we had to come up with an alternative plan.  We had to open up the floor – even more than we normally do!

BASKETBALL – Open Concepts

Allow me to show a little of what we do.  Even with a center on the floor we like to “open” the floor by clearing out a side and running basic pick and roll concepts with our point guard or with another scoring guard when we dribble hand-off.  We call it our Open set and we run a variety of actions in response to how the defense defends that open ball screen on one side of the floor.  By opening up one side, we can more clearly see how the defense will play.

With five guards on the floor, however, we wanted to open the floor up even more so we have installed a new look to be ready for these situations, but have also found it can work with our center as well.  Typically, we begin the action by spacing our center and power forward, or any of the five guards, on the floor to the corners and then use a weave action between the three top guards.  We stress keeping the middle open for drives, slipping screens, and jet cutting for back doors.  As with other parts of our offense, we borrowed a few concepts from the Golden State Warriors.  They ran some great five out action a few years ago with or without their traditional center, Andrew Bogut, on the floor:

What I’ve learned is to have a plan for these odd line-ups that may occur and, when in doubt, to open up the floor and allow players to create in space, sometimes with structure and sometimes without.  Staying open allows us to better see the defense and then respond accordingly.

LIFE – Open Up

As I get older I’ve become more sensitive to my own tendency to be close-minded.  I don’t like it when I allow myself to get stuck in a rut, to take the easy way out, or to be unwilling to see the other side of things. Honestly, it takes more effort and more courage to open up and consider new perspectives or new methods.  The same is true on the court – opening up the floor takes more effort and more willingness to space and react to what’s going on.  Anyone of us can take the safer and easier routes in life, but the more you live that way, the less of life you experience.

Evan Vucci, AP

To some this may seem to contradict my typical thoughts about living by core values and principles, but I find one of the challenges in our world today is that too often we withdraw to our own side of most issues.  We live in a combative and divisive society pitting liberals against conservatives, races against each other, and genders against each other.  Our leaders and other prominent people rarely work together and often seed division and closed-minded thinking.  When it comes to considering the needs and perspectives of others, most of us continue to keep the floor closed to look after ourselves.  True courage and character come however, when we open our hearts and minds to not simply work with each other, but put others ahead of ourselves.

FAITH – Closed, but Open

Being open as a Christian is also a difficult position.  First off, God’s word is very clear.  There is only one path to heaven – through Jesus.  That in itself is very divisive.  We are either with God or we are not.  There is no room for ambiguity on that.  However, when it comes to dealing with people who share the same faith, the Bible has a lot to say about our “openness” to others who also believe in eternal salvation which comes only from Jesus.

Once a term that referred to those most knowledgeable of and most committed to the keeping of Jewish laws, “Pharisee” is now used in most instances as a warning to not think more highly of ourselves than we should or to think that our commitment to faith or the living out of our faith puts us in a better position than anyone else.  That’s pointed out in the challenging book Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity. and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne.  All of us have a bit of Pharisee in us. (Usually more than we’d like to admit.)  We tend to think our interpretations of scripture and our ways of living in faith put us at the top, as Osborne writes:

“Our spiritual comparisons are also incredibly biased. We have an amazing ability to compare things in a way that causes us to come out on top. And when we come out on top, it’s hard not to look down on people who don’t measure up.”

Osborne rightfully reminds us, “our definitions of what it means to be a genuine Christ follower must include room for the weak and the struggling, the frightened and the failing…”

So what does the Bible say about being open to other believers?  Paul addressed arguments about practicing the faith in Romans 14.  It’s a fascinating read for those of us who tend to be close-minded, but if you open up the floor a bit, you’ll see how much God loves each of us despite our theological issues, our level of zeal, and our commitment.

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” (v. 1 NLT)

 

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