It was a busy weekend of basketball. On Friday, Iowa shocked undefeated South Carolina to advance to the women's national championship game. On Saturday, San Diego State's Lamont Butler hit a buzzer-beater to help the Aztecs advance to tonight's men's national championship game. On Sunday, LSU beat Iowa to win the women's national championship.
With all of the wins, unfortunately, several things played side show to a fantastic weekend of basketball. We all know what they are. Rather than belabor what happened, I want to focus on what we should be taking away from all of this.
The Angel Reese/Caitlin Clark saga that has sparked arguments seemingly across ever media channel is a non-starter for me. One unsportsmanlike action doesn't lay a precendent for another. When Clark told a Louisville player in a previous game to "shut up" because they were down by 15 points, that was wrong then, and it's wrong now. Following someone around the court to taunt them after winning a game was wrong then and is wrong now.
I tell my kids all the time that unfortunately, sometimes you learn the most from people doing the wrong things. What's disappointing is the amount of people that see a wrong and then believe another wrong should take place because of it. Integrity is doing the right thing no matter who's watching or what happened previously.
The takeaway for me is this: every coach at every level should use situations like this to reinforce what good sportsmanship is. Good sportsmanship to me is treating an opponent with the same respect, whether I'm up 30 or down 30. It's a privilege to play the game. It's a greater privilege to play the game on national television. Regardless of our platform, we all need to be teaching the rights/wrongs to younger people. Frankly, it's the most important thing that we can do.
History is Important
College Game Day had a special edition on Saturday afternoon. In one of the segments, they showed a clip of NC State winning the 1983 men's national championship after Lorenzo Charles converted the alley-oop from Dereck Whittenburg. They showed the clip to most of the star players participating in this year's men's Final Four.
Not one player had ever seen the clip. They asked, almost embarrassingly who "the guy with the tie" was running across the court (Jim Valvano).
It doesn't bother me that they hadn't seen it, but it saddens me that despite the tremendous marketing of the V Foundation for cancer research, these kids still have no idea who Jimmy V was, what "V Week" is all about, and why Jim's speech is replayed seemingly hundreds of time throughout every college basketball season.
It's one thing to teach x and o's. It's another to ensure your players are getting to class. But, please, to all the college coaches: educate your players on some of the history of college basketball, especially the stuff that extends beyond the game. The mission of Jimmy's legacy was to cure an uncurable disease, and you can bet that he would've loved watching all of these young men play. At a minimum, every college coach should "participate" in V Week next year in some fashion, even if it's simply sitting your kids down in the film room, playing a few clips, and talking about why it's important.
After South Carolina lost to Iowa in the women's tournament on Friday night, Dawn Staley had some powerful words for the media:
I don't know what was said, but she implies that the media unfairly labeled her players and team. Without knowing Dawn or any of the South Carolina players, I'm agreeing with her 100%. Here's why:
The media used to have some unwritten rules when it came to college athletes: you don't criticize a kid in public. Unfortunately, the lack of integrity in today's media is a disgrace. If you play college sports as an 18-22 year old, you should never be labeled a thug, bar fighter, street fighter, etc. (unless of course you claim to be those things).
The media can chastise a player's performance on the court. "She shot the ball poorly last night." But, it really crosses the line with me when people are labeled as things anything other than basketball players. That's the beauty of sports: people from all different upbringings, backgrounds, and geographies come together to compete. Once that ball is tipped, nobody cares about what makes the players different. They are all playing the same game.
Adversity is the Ultimate Character Builder
With all of these situations, there are two roads to take. The first is that it bothers you and you crawl up into a ball and let your feelings get to you.
The second is that you're strengthened in mind and character moving forward. If sports didn't have any adversity, they'd be boring as all get out. Things are going to happen, players are going to be unfairly "ripped on," and officials are going to make terrible calls. For some of us, in the moment, our actions aren't always aligned with our values. The beauty of sports is that adversity allows us to grow and learn. Whether you're a player, parent, coach, or casual fan, we should all be learning from these instances so that all aspects of the game are better moving forward.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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