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9 Lessons We Can Learn from the 2013
/ 2014 Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Team
A year ago,
seven key members of this year’s team were finishing up HIGH SCHOOL.
Six months ago, they became the topic
of conversation, not only around water coolers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,
but also on nationally syndicated sports talk radio and television shows.A less than stellar regular season had
KY fans (me included) up in arms with
disappointment and prompted criticism and judgment…mostly in a negative way.
The story of
this year’s team reminds us that
everyone is “new”, at one time or another; whether in school, sports, or
career, we’ve all been “the new person”.These young men just happened to be “the new guys”, at the ages of 18
and 19, on one of the biggest sports
stages in the world – Kentucky Basketball, the winningest basketball program
in the history of the NCAA.
As it turns
out, all they needed was time.The
maturation process happens at different rates, for different people…and this
team showed us that sometimes, all new
people need…is time…to develop and blossom into their full potential.
the most highly touted group of freshmen recruits in recent history.Their collective talent-level far
exceeded that of any other recruiting class and really any other team in NCAA
Division 1 Basketball.However, everyone
– including each individual on the team, the coaching staff, and the fans –
found out during the regular season that merely
having the talent wasn’t nearly enough to win, consistently.
proverbial “tweaks” Coach Cal made down the stretch are getting a great deal of
press.Among the many tweaks was a
paradigm shift, almost a transformation of each individual, moving away from “me” to more of what’s best for “the team”.
It sounds so
simple and anything but profound…but this team may have learned this valuable
lesson at an early age, and in doing so reminds all of us of the same lesson.Their season reminds us that unless talented people work together, focusing
on the greater good of the team, the company, the organization, or the family…really,
nobody wins.When people work as a
team, everyone wins.
regular season, this Kentucky team shot a less than stellar free throw
percentage – 68%.In the
tournament, however, the Cats shot a little better – 71%.Though only a 3% improvement, they
seemed to make them when they needed them, down the stretch in close
games.Unfortunately they just
didn’t fall for the Cats in the final game.
In basketball, free throws – those free shots, with nobody
guarding you, with the clock stopped - can make or break the team’s ability to
We can all
learn from this, regardless of our roles, in any industry.Think about the equivalent to a free throw, in your business or life… What
are the easy-to-capitalize-on things?Whatever and wherever the low-hanging fruit is in our lives, when and if
we execute, taking advantage of those easy opportunities, we’ll win the close
“games” against our competition.
& Enjoy The Ride
Early in the
season, we saw Kentucky players grimacing at each other, wincing at officials,
and sometimes even at their coaches.It was pretty clear that nobody was having much fun at all.
However, as this group of talented
individuals transformed into a TEAM, Kentucky fans began to see alley oop
dunks, Three-Point Goggles, Hi-Fives, smiles, jubilation, and celebration.We saw guys having fun, celebrating
when their teammates got a steal, made a great move, or hit a game-winning
easier to have fun and truly enjoy life, when things are going well.However, this team reminds us that things
in life or even at work tend to improve once we start having a little fun.When this team relaxed and just went out to play the game they love,
with guys they’ve grown to love…everybody enjoyed the ride of their life.
reminds us all to simply relax…and
play.Their talent is
basketball.For others, it may be
teaching; some people are great at math, while some people were born to sell or
lead or speak or write…whatever it may be, when we simply relax and enjoy theride, doing what we do best, good things happen.
Afraid to Miss
A few tough
road losses, combined with a couple disappointing performances at home during
the regular season left these Wildcats a bit timid, on offense.Guys that could score, at will, a year
ago, as the stars on their respective High School teams, were seemingly afraid
to shoot the ball.
In a game when
the objective is to score more points than the opposing team (by shooting the ball into the hoop),
it’s fairly imperative that basketball players SHOOT THE BASKETBALL.
of Coach Cal’s “tweaks”, down the stretch, was this idea of “don’t be afraid to miss a shot…”Once players adopted that new mindset,
we saw them become more aggressive, offensively.They took shots they weren’t taking a few weeks prior.Their energy-level sky rocketed, which
somehow seemed to elevate their play…sometimes quite literally – with more
dunks, more lobs, and more three-pointers.
illustrations, of course, were Aaron Harrison’s heroics versus Louisville and
again versus Michigan and yet again versus Wisconsin, launching deep, game-winning
three-pointers late in all three games.
we can all learn is to be aggressive and go
for it.We shouldn’t be afraid
to take chances, speaking up when the time and audience is right…as long as we
do so in good conscience, respectfully.We should apply for the job, ask for the responsibility, and make the
tough call.Don’t be afraid to
miss…if it doesn’t work out, no problem.We’ll get another shot at it.
Leaders, not the Public
several losses that were never supposed to happen, these young men could have
Fans (again…me included), talking heads on ESPN, sports talk radio shows,
and article after article criticized their play, their character, their skills,
and their attitude.
listen to the public.Instead they
listened to their coaches…and the leaders among their peers.
reminded that people will always talk.People on our teams, our competitors, our enemies, our customers,
clients, and Guests…everyone will have an opinion.Today, with social media, people will likely share their
opinions in public forums, online and otherwise.
Wildcats taught us all a lesson this year in
staying the course.They
showed us that despite public opinion, we should pay attention to the
opportunities tomorrow holds instead of dwelling on yesterday’s failures.That’s what Coach Cal instilled in this
young team, and that’s what kept them in the NCAA tournament all the way to the
end of the road.
After a few
false starts, this team seemed to find a groove late in the season…especially
throughout this NCAA Tournament.
They found their collective mojo when each individual became comfortable
with ‘that thing’ they brought to the
was Julius Randle’s or James Young’s ability to score almost at will, against
any defender, at any time…or Dakari Johnson’s ability to rebound…or Alex
Poythress’s ability to jump over people to score or block shots…or the Harrison
twins’ ability to set the tone with their ball handling, passing, and/or outside
shooting – the Wildcats, as a team, were at their best when guys played within
themselves, exploiting their strengths.
Kentucky team reminds us all of a sentiment my Dad’s high school basketball
coach, “Doc” Murphy, used to teach – “…keep
your passers pass’n and your shooters shoot’n…”
this team pull together down the stretch…from the guys on the bench to the ones
on the floor.Everybody had a role
and everybody mattered.We saw
players like Marcus Lee, Jared Polson, and Dominique Hawkins step into games and
contribute in important situations.
Even when Willie Cauley-Stein got hurt, his teammates insisted that he
wear a jersey and sit with them on the bench, because he brings a certain
energy with his presence on and off the court.
noticed something very cool.In
the tournament, I noticed Jon Hood, a senior from Madisonville, KY, on the
bench.His playing time this
season drastically decreased because of all the talented freshmen, but he
stayed engaged.Here is a guy who
used to clock significant minutes and actually has an NCAA championship ring,
from the 2012 season.
have easily disengaged and sat at the end of the bench daydreaming.Instead, I saw him making sure Coach
Cal and the rest of the staff had what they needed – from clip boards to
information during timeouts.He
was the first person jumping to his feet when the team was making big plays and
winning games.He was also the
first teammate to offer encouragement, picking his teammates up when they
needed it.Once, as the telecast
was cutting away for a commercial I caught a quick glimpse if him literally
drawing up a play on a clipboard.
us that we all make a difference…the choice is ours as to whether the
difference we make is a positive one or negative one.
Lose, We Learn and Grow
significance of 9 Lessons is that
this would have been the 9th National Championship in the history of
Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball…if they won the game.
beautiful thing about sports that translates to life, personally and professionally, is that we don’t have to ‘win the game’ in order to learn and
Winning is great, but it isn’t everything.What we learn and ultimately share with others is what it’s
all about – in sports and in life.
Kentucky Basketball more than most things on planet Earth.The Big Blue Nation and I would have
loved nothing more than to be celebrating that 9th championship
However, let us pause and
celebrate these sixteen special college kids on the 2013 / 2014 roster who
became young men, on one of the biggest stages in sports.I’m sure they learned a great deal
about basketball and life, but they also taught us some lessons while they were at it.And that’s special, no matter how old they are.
To Coach Cal
and the Cats, thank you not only for another year of memorable, Kentucky basketball,
but also some valuable life lessons
we can all apply to our own lives at work and at home.
review Lesson #6 on this list…keep looking up…don't hang your heads one bit...be proud not only for what you've accomplished this year, but also who you've become...)
Have a great day
...and until the first game of the 2014-2015 season, in 7 short months - Go Cats!
end of last year, my buddy, Brady, asked me what the most important lesson I
learned in 2013 was.Without
hesitation, I told him the ability to compromise.Not that I have mastered it…but just
that I’d learned -- Without it,
relationships at work and in life are impossible, and they won’t work.
We know that
to compromise means giving up
something of our own – our time, our money, our stuff, or our own interests –
for something or someone beyond ourselves.It sounds magical enough, but we’d all agree it’s often difficult to do.
is – it takes real work.
selfish.From the time we’re first
learning to walk and talk, it’s all about us.It’s all about mine…mine…mine...
That’s ok.We’re human.However, if we wake up each day only
thinking about the person in the mirror, we’ll soon only have…that person in
the mirror in our lives.
the work comes in...
difference between selfishness and selflessness is often the gap that prevents
two sides of any type of relationship – romantic or otherwise – from
The mental OneMoreStep
worth taking is to make a conscious effort to let go of the ‘my’ tendencies, obsessing over my time, my money, my stuff, and/or my career… Simple, but not very easy...because this doesn’t just happen
In fact, it’s unnatural
to lead with a Compro-My’s
attitude.It’s a choice available
to us, however, in every single situation.Either we want to put in the effort necessary to make the relationship work, or we don't.
choose to do the work…to Compro-My’s; our
relationships change for the better; in most cases, for good.Something also happens to that person
in the mirror.When we Compro-My’s, that person in the mirror
is also changed for good.
All it takes
is a little work.And that work is
waiting for us, within the gap between selfishness and selflessness.
difference in relationships that truly work
and those that don’t work is often choosing
to go OneMoreStep:
relationships that mean the most, Compromise.It works.