What the NCAA Tournament Has Taught Me About Life


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Seize Your Moment

What do Lorenzo Charles, Keith Smart, Tyus Edney, and Bryce Drew have in common? They are all average basketball players that picked the perfect moment to show their talent to the world. Each of these players had little to no chance of being drafted into the NBA because they lacked individual production, had a small stature in a game of large athletes, or faced a lack of competition because they attended a smaller Division I school. However, each of these players hit a game winning shot that helped their team survive a crucial round of the tournament, and Charles and Smart both converted game-winning field goal attempts that ultimately won the National Championship. These players were not afraid of the big moment that faced them even though there were better players on their respective teams. They did not fear their competition or fear failure. On the biggest stage of their athletic careers, they nailed a shot that still remains in tournament lore today. They put in the hard practices and repetitions that made them ready for their moment. In life, just like in basketball, you have to be ready for your opportunity to shine. Your success is contingent on your ability to seize the right opportunity. And, with enough dedication to your craft, you can outperform someone with superior talent in crucial moments and reap the benefits. Each of these players were drafted into the National Basketball Association.

 

Success Is in the Details

Dean Smith failed to produce twelve championships despite fielding some of the most talented players that basketball has ever seen. He only won two NCAA tournaments, but every player who went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during his tenure at the school and most basketball historians still speak reverently about him when they are asked about the best coaches to ever coach the game. Dean Smith separated himself from his peers because he taught the game of basketball instead of forcing athletes into playing a system that would limit their growth. He taught the finer points of offense and defense instead of solely focusing on a specific brand of basketball. His players had to box out, rebound, and defend to get on the floor. They knew how to move without the basketball and understood the importance of spacing. Dean Smith taught his players the fundamentals of basketball, so that they could strive in any system that they encountered at the professional level. You as an individual, have to be prepared for life in the same way. You are only as strong as your base of knowledge, so you need a solid foundation in the basics of your career choice. Understanding the finer points of your craft and being detail-oriented helps you to maneuver through different environments.

 basketball - ncaa - syracuse 2-3 zone defense

Pick One Thing And Be Great At It

On the opposite end of the basketball spectrum from Coach Smith are the coaches who only taught a specific system to their players, but were still successful. And though they are not nearly as historically relevant as Dean, lessons can be learned from them too. Examples of great coaches who taught systems and were successful are Pete Carrill with his Princeton offense, Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse 2-3 zone, and Nolan Richardson and the Arkansas 40 minutes of hell. These coaches recruited specialized talent and fit them into a system that magnified their gifts. Carrill rarely had good athletes on his Ivy League team, so he created an offense based on misdirection, execution, and slowing down the game which nullified the other team’s physical gifts. Boeheim placed long, athletic wing players in a zone defense and used them to shorten the court for opposing offenses. He used his 2-3 zone to trap opponents and force teams into difficult shots which ultimately led to more possessions for his team. And, Nolan Richardson regularly recruited great athletes to Arkansas, so he instituted a system that allowed his team’s superior talent to overwhelm lesser opponents. These coaches did not teach their players to be the best basketball players that they could be individually, but they did teach them how to specialize in a system that made them immensely valuable. Specializing is about effort regardless of physical ability, and knowing how to apply a specific skill set to defeat individual talent in a team concept. Specialization in the workforce makes individuals more valuable too. If you are not overwhelmingly gifted in your profession, being great at a specific task can make you indispensable to your company.

 

Talent Does Not Promise Success

Phi Slamma Jamma is the perfect example of promise unfulfilled. Guy Lewis’ Houston Cougars of the 1980s had two Hall of Fame players who may be top 5 players at their respective positions, several professional basketball players, and took 3 trips to the Final Four. But they also have 0 championships despite all their talent. And though they faced talented opponents in the NCAA championship games, the Cougars should have won it all at least once. The Cougars were so talented that they regularly destroyed their competition and when they reached the final game, they were expected to win the championship in at least two of their three trips, especially when they faced an overachieving North Carolina State team in 1983. But, the University of Houston underestimated the Wolfpack, let them keep a game that should have been a blowout close, and ultimately lost their best opportunity to win a title. Being successful is not only about having the most tangible abilities. Success comes from the application of those talents. If you fail to put forth a good effort in life, you can lose to people who are considerably less talented than you.

 

Do Not Beat Yourself

The 2010 Duke University Blue Devils are the perfect example of how a good game plan and precise execution trumps better talent. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had 2 marginal pro prospects on his college basketball team and faced teams with more scoring and athleticism, but he took that team to a National with great coaching, great execution, and most importantly, very few mistakes. Krzyzewski put his players in the right places to be successful and showed them how to compete against good competition. Limiting self inflicted errors are key in any walk of life. Life and business are about creating effective strategies, implementing your best ideas, and not beating yourself.

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1 comment for “What the NCAA Tournament Has Taught Me About Life

  1. April 26, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    Enlightening the world, one helpful article at a time.

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