In an age of basketball dominated by quick scoring, “7 Seconds or Less Offense” and shot clocks, patience is a forgotten concept. The game is played at a fast pace, so most of us coaches practice fast and train our players to push the pace. And part of that is a reflection of not only our fast-paced society, but also a generation of players that has grown up experiencing their entire life in an instant gratification world. Patience is often foreign, to all of us, but as our celebration of Christmas closes, is a vital element in our Christian faith. Continue reading
Over the first two days of the 2016 NCAA Tournament we’ve already seen a record number of “upsets” and all the pundits have exhausted the notion of parity. If you need to get caught up and run through the amazing list of upsets, read ESPN.com’s NCAA Tournament Upsets Match First Round Record.
It’s gotten to the point where the surprise of the upset has vanished, especially since we can so quickly break the games down and understand how and why the underdogs won. When projecting the bracket ahead of time, though, most of us know there will be upsets, especially with so many mistakes in seeding, but how many can you actually predict? While he erroneously picked Michigan State to win it all, I thought ESPN’s Seth Greenberg did a terrific job breaking things down prior to the Madness and gave great insight about the “art of the upset”
I think we can all appreciate those technical points – imposing your will, limiting turnovers, crashing the offensive boards, and defending – but Greenberg’s last point is one I’d like to focus on: upset winners often have a “go-to player” who steps up.
BASKETBALL – Go-To Players
There certainly were plenty of unsung heroes who played crucial roles for the underdogs, but here are just a few of the lead players who stepped up to propel their teams to first round upsets.
While #12 Yale beat Baylor at its own game of controlling the boards – one of Greenberg’s keys – sophomore Makai Mason stepped up with 31 points on a variety of dribble moves and set-back three’s:
If you check out his history (see SI.com), it’s no surprise that he stepped up in crunch time! We’ll see if he can do it again against Duke.
#12 Arkansas-Little Rock won more games this year than anyone else in the tournament other than Kansas, so with one of the top defenses in the country, they expected to win. But they also had Josh Hagins who stepped up with 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and five steals:
That’s stepping up! Read more on Mr. Big Shot on USAToday.com.
#14 Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia at its own game, forcing 22 turnovers and on the flip side, handling WVU’s press and limiting their own turnovers to seven! Amazing! And so was their go-to star, Thomas Walkup:
No, he doesn’t double as the team’s Lumberjack mascot. He just calmly handled everything the Mountaineers threw at him. Check out more about him in this piece from NewsWest9.com.
And finally, in the biggest upset, #15 Middle Tennessee, led by five scorers in double figures, took down popular favorite Michigan State. In that game, a football player named Reggie Upshaw stepped up on the biggest stage with 21 points:
Upshaw is certainly one to watch in the next round against Syracuse and is a terrific story (see 247Sports.com).
These are just a few of the inspiring performances from some overlooked players that makes this tournament so much fun. There are more amazing stories, fantastic finishes, and strategic explanations to come, but let’s collect some wisdom from players stepping up when their teams needed them most.
FAITH – Stepping Up
The Bible is filled with accounts of God’s people stepping up under pressure. Many of us have read about Daniel and remember how God protected him in a den of lions, but many of us forget the inspiring details prior to that miraculous event. As a teenager, Daniel had everything going for him, but when the king of Babylon destroyed and ransacked Jerusalem, Daniel found himself carted off to be indoctrinated into a new culture. As part of Nebuchadnezzar’s grand plan to integrate the brightest young Hebrews into his own personal service, they would be treated like princes, with the best of food and the best of training to help them succeed. But when Daniel realized the food and lifestyle did not line up with God’s laws, he had to step up as stated in Daniel 1:8:
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
Daniel stepped up. He resolved to not be defiled and he went to his new masters to work out a deal to stick with the food he was used to, the kinds of food God instructed him to eat. And, he stuck with his prayer routine and the daily routines that kept him close to God, despite a variety of temptations and distractions in the culture around him. As you read the rest of the story, you’ll understand how important that would be for him in the coming years!
And finally, Daniel’s action not only focused his life, but he greatly influenced the decisions of his three closest comrades. Like a star player stepping up to inspire his teammates, Daniel’s performance led Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see Sarah Coleman’s Analysis) to join him in observing God’s laws and ultimately to their own acts of faith. Today, Daniel’s action under pressure led to Pastor Rick Warren’s inspiring program called the Daniel Plan, which has helped his church and thousands of others learn to live healthier and more spiritual lifestyles in our modern culture. Daniel stepped up in the face of pressure and each of us today can learn from the example.
LIFE – Can You Step Up?
As I watched Reggie Upshaw and the others, I was thinking about times in my life when I needed to step up. I wish I could say that I always have. And as I watch this next round, I’m anxious to see if those same guys will step up again and lead their teams to the next upset (Yale is playing Duke now as I write!). Stepping up under the pressure of the world is not easy, but I want you to know that you can do it. Believe in yourself, and more importantly, align your life with God’s principles. Whatever pressures we face, or have faced in the past, God can use each of us in big ways and small ways!
Keep pursuing wisdom and enjoy the Madness!
There are times when my mind wanders. I may be in the car, at my desk, in the shower, who knows? During many of those times, I’m thinking X & O’s. I can get completely lost in my thoughts and time quickly slips by. The other day, though, it wasn’t simply X & O’s. I had heard a discussion about where Steph Curry fits on the list of all time great NBA players – not just as a shooter, but as a player. He does some amazing things, but are we ready to put him up there with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, or Oscar Robertson? And that’s just the guards! How does he rank when you consider Russell, Chamberlain, and Jabbar? Comparing players of different eras is a difficult proposition, but no matter what your opinions or biases may be, it can be an enlightening process as you discover the traits and qualities that you believe are most important and in doing so, it also helps reveal an element of gratitude that each of us should experience and possibly, act upon!
BASKETBALL – The Best?
One of my favorite basketball analysts, since I rubbed shoulders with him outside the old Milwaukee Mecca Arena when I was youngster and he was the assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, is Hubie Brown. You can tell from discussions with George Raveling on Rav’s Conversations With Coach that not only is Brown an incredible teacher, but he’s a terrific historian of the game. In this additional interview with BBall Breakdown, Hubie discusses his thoughts of the NBA’s greatest players and how some of the players of today will be considered:
As Hubie says, “Everybody’s got an opinion.” Is it based on scoring? Defense? Championships? The criteria you use, more than likely, displays what you value most in the game.
LIFE – Impact
Back in 1971 as a starry-eyed hoops junkie, not only did I bump into Hubie, but I also got a high-five from the basketball savior of Milwaukee, Oscar Robertson. After drafting Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the trade for Robertson who even though he averaged a triple-double, had never won a title, was the difference maker in leading a small-market team to the NBA Championship. In my opinion as an innocent young kid, Oscar was “the man.” After the one game I got to attend that season, we waited for the players to leave the court and Oscar slapped the hand of the little kid yelling “Way to go, Big O!” And after the Bucks went on to beat the Bullets in the finals, I pulled out my large-ruled school paper and wrote a letter to Robertson thanking him for coming to Milwaukee. Since we didn’t have ESPN and all I looked at in the paper were the box scores and the photos, which I routinely clipped and pasted in a scrapbook, I had no clue of the trade or any of the discussion that brought Oscar to the Bucks. I just knew that he saved the franchise and we won!
That’s why it’s important in life to look back to the people who influenced your life – not just your sports heroes, but those people who truly impacted your life. Oscar impacted me at a time when basketball, and other sports, were my way of dealing with the breakdown of my family – but so did a multitude of teachers, coaches, and the parents of many of my friends. As I consider their impact, I also know it’s important to express gratitude. There’s nothing better than reconnecting with those folks and letting them know specifically the impact they had. I encourage you to do the same. Are there coaches or teachers who have left a mark on you? Are there military veterans who have sacrificed for you? Each of us may have different opinions and criteria for who the great people of our past may be, but taking time to consider their impact is an enlightening exercise!
FAITH – The Great Ones
Daydreaming about the NBA greats led me to another daydreaming theme as I considered the heroes of the Christian faith. I’m a huge fan of Old Testament heroes because so often, the examples of faith mirror my life and experiences. Scripture shows how God can use any of us, with whatever baggage we carry, to live lives of faith and impact the world. Pastor Rick Warren once wrote about some of the greats of the Bible by describing what God helped them overcome:
- Abraham was old.
- Jacob was insecure.
- Leah was unattractive.
- Joseph was abused.
- Moses stuttered.
- Gideon was poor.
- Samson was codependent.
- Rahab was immoral.
- David had an affair and all kinds of family problems.
- Elijah was suicidal.
- Jeremiah was depressed.
- Jonah was reluctant.
- Naomi was a widow.
- John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least.
- Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered.
- Martha worried a lot.
- The Samaritan woman had several failed marriages.
- Zacchaeus was unpopular.
- Thomas had doubts.
- Paul had poor health.
- Timothy was timid.
So, discuss amongst yourselves – which of these are the greatest examples of faith? Who inspires you the most? I’ve been a fan of Jacob, Gideon, and Jeremiah. And because of what they overcame, I contemplate their stories and I’m thankful for their example.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (Philippians 1:3)
Those stories and examples continue today and throughout history. Fellow believers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and Corrie Ten Boom would creep up on my list of Greats in the faith. It’s difficult to compare eras, isn’t it? But no matter who you choose, consider the criteria you used and while you’re at it, thank God for their inspiration!