For most of us, our years in college is the period of our life we grow the most. Out from under the comforting wing of our family, friends and home community this is a time for our student-athletes to learn, grow, stretch their limitations, invest in their success, and become more. We learn the basic skills of cooking (I could cook chicken on the George Foreman and Mac Cheese with the best of ’em!) time management, cleaning (my wife would argue I have not learned this skill yet) money management and many other daily skills. More importantly the freedom and opportunity to make decisions begins to mold and influence our character, which defines us. Nobody grows in all aspects of their life without the help of others. I know I can’t. We all need guidance.
Over the weekend the athletic department provided our players with the opportunity to hear Justice Clarence Thomas speak about his journey to becoming only the second African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. The adversity he overcame was something myself and our players could never imagine. The lack of opportunities he and his family faced because of racism and poverty was astounding. Justice Thomas said his grandfather told him as a child that they weren’t “poor, they were ‘po’ because they couldn’t afford the o and the r.” Despite these challenges he told our players he has been successful because he’s always worked passionately toward achieving his goals. As a huge sports fan who said he had watched many of our games from last year, Justice Thomas often correlated his journey to the daily circumstances our players face. I knew he had seen us play when he referenced free throw shooting during his message about becoming great at something. He said “If your goal is to become a great free throw shooter you have to spend hours upon hours working on your shot.” Although the adversity we face is much different I hope our players learned that his persistent passion and work ethic enabled him to stay focused, grow and achieve more than most people thought he could.
In search of continued growth, a few of our players and I went to church together again on Sunday morning. Hearing that timely and powerful message while being around a couple of our guys for that hour and a half made my day. Everyone knows my ultimate goal is to become a head coach at this level someday. Although your longevity in this business has a lot to do with how many games you win, I’ve learned this profession means much more to me than winning a bunch of basketball games. It’s about teaching, mentoring and helping our players grow in all aspects of their life while members of our basketball program and this university. Therefore, being able to help our current players and talking to former players who are having great success on the court or in the business world made for a great weekend.
While our staff continues to work at developing our players off the floor, our passion runs deep for the game of basketball. Therefore, we can’t wait for our second “Team Individual” tomorrow. Coach Pearl will continue to focus on two of the pillars of our program: half court defense and fast break offense. Unlike some moments from seasons of the past, I don’t expect us to spend much time worrying about the effort that our guys give. With inexperience due to guys having never played at this level or veterans returning in unfamiliar roles, our biggest challenge will be getting our players mentally tough to focus and meet their physical abilities. With drills designed to test our players and competition at each position, another chance to get better as a team presents itself tomorrow. Who will step up? Which of our players will learn, grow, stretch their limitations, invest in their success, and become more tomorrow? Regardless who it is, we will continue to work to help our guys get better “every day and in every way.”