I have replayed that game time and time again in my head. Thought about, and dissected every play with “what ifs” and “I wishes.” I’ll never forget our 1pt loss last year to Michigan State in the Elite 8. I still remember the tears of disappointment streaming down the faces of our players and coaches in the locker room. I’ll never forget sitting out in the stands of the Edward Jones Dome after Coach Pearl’s post game speech watching the workers tear down the confetti covered stage that we were one defensive stop or one basket shy of celebrating on. We had been through so much, become such a tight family and played so well. We were supposed to be the ones celebrating. I went from sad, to disappointed, to mad. The plane ride home was miserable. It was great coming home to so many congratulatory fans at the airport but to be honest it just made me more disappointed. I wanted to keep advancing. For our players, our fans and our families. They had supported our staff, these players and this program through so much. To go from the highest of highs with our win vs Ohio State to the lowest of lows with that loss had me sick. I didn’t watch the Final 4. I didn’t watch the championship game. I couldn’t.
It wasn’t until the team got back to work during our post season workouts that I started to feel better. See, although our season begins tonight with our 9pm game vs Chattanooga, this journey actually began way back in April. That is the time in which the players and staff began laying the foundation to this season. Shot by shot, rep by rep, sprint by sprint. The extra work guys did before or after mandatory workouts. The chemistry developed as guys spent time with teammates off the court. Competing in every workout, open gym and in the weight room. Holding one another accountable to do what is asked of them. That work was the start. Was the work we put in as Coaches, staff members and players good enough to improve? Or did we put in the time but not the effort? Did we get complacent with our family and friends telling us how great we were, how great of a season we had last year and how much they can’t wait for us to do well again this year?
Monday we faced a little adversity. As I talked about in my previous “Humble Pie” post, it was tough to handle. However any journey towards accomplishing a lofty goal is going to be tough. There are going to be even more hurdles and road blocks along the way. How will we handle that? Tonight begins the next leg of our journey. How will we handle a few missed shots? What will we do if our man scores on us? If a ref makes a tough call against us? If we get down?
Focus, mental toughness and leadership is what we need to rely on. As long as we stay focused on our goals a road block is just fuel as we drive toward finding a new route. Since it will be challenging, the easy thing will be to give in. It’s tough for our staff to always ignore our critics. It’s even more challenging for our players (I’ve been there) to block out their family and friends who tell them their role should be this or their role should be that and continue to do what Coach asks them to do for the betterment of the team. To help prevent this we must continue to focus on getting better every day and in every way. We must forget about the end result and focus on the process.
That is where leadership comes in. These are the people who throughout the season will persistently work at achieving our vision. They are discipline, passionate and of good character on a daily basis. Most importantly they have the respect of others and have the ability to communicate their message. I am a strong believer that it only takes one person to change a groups perspective on any situation. If the team doesn’t have energy, focus, etc..it only takes one person to bring that energy or work ethic to begin making an effective change in the group.
Tonight vs Chattanooga is the next step in our journey. They bring a strong starting line up with four high major transfers hungry to knock us off. As a player at UW-Milwaukee, I can relate to the mindset that these players will enter our game with. As a mid-major player, we respected the high major programs such as Wisconsin but honestly didn’t respect the players nearly as much. We played against most of the guys on Wisconsin in the summer time and all felt that we were just as good or better. We felt like we should be at Wisconsin and they should be at the smaller UW-M. Although we never admitted it to the media while we were playing, our early season games vs. Wisconsin was our Final 4, our Super Bowl. If Chattanooga were to beat us tonight, it would make their season. It’s a win that the school’s alumni and their players would talk about forever. And you know what, that’s great for us! This will challenge our team. How will we handle it? What did we learn from Monday? Does the sick feeling from last year still linger? Will it continue to motivate us through this season long journey? I am confident that our staff and players have given their all since April thus there is no other staff, roster or fan base I rather have on my side as we tip-off our 2010-11 season tonight!! I hope to see you there Vol Nation!
Become a fan of our official team page at www.Facebook.com/BallWithTheVols