Coach K Proves Most Valuable Lesson: Learning Never Stops
On a cold November day in 1996, my life changed forever. A friend of mine had just turned six years old, and he wanted to go to the movies for his big birthday celebration. I've had an adoration for the big screen since a young age, and I couldn't have been more excited for his birthday party throughout the entirety of that school week. Finally, on a chilly Saturday afternoon, a massive group of screaming 6-year-old kids ventured out with some brave parents to go see Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny star in Space Jam.
To this day, I will never forget that opening scene. A young MJ is out shooting hoops on a chained net (the coolest thing ever in a 6-year-old's mind) and his father comes out to see what the commotion is all about. It's late at night, summer vibes are in the air, and Michael Jeffery Jordan is out working on his game talking about his dreams with his father. Then, the magic ensues with some epic highlights of Michael Jordan's basketball career. With Quad City DJ'ssinging the most infectious movie soundtrack single of all time, I became a North Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan for life that day. I had no idea Jordan had attended school in Chapel Hill, but I knew it was my dream school, and I knew I was a fan from that day forward.
If you are unfamiliar with this classic scene, then I have provided it here for you:
Goosebumps. So, where was I? Oh yes, my obsession for Michael Jordan and the University of North Carolina. Well, as time passed, I became a diehard Carolina fan and had the honor of attending their first two games in the NCAA Tournament, before they went on to knock off Illinois 75-70 in 2005's classic title game. So, like any diehard Tar Heels fan in the world today, there is something negative, dark, and downright disgusting that is closely linked to the Carolina program. I'll give you a hint: the dark entity in which I speak is a Blue Devil mascot and the downright disgusting thing I mentioned is a certain basketball program on the other side of town down there in Carolina. Ah, yes, the Duke Blue Devils. America's most beloved and hated team. If you watched ESPN's most recent 30 for 30 Documentary, "I Still Hate Christian Laettner," then I'm sure you know exactly who and what I'm talking about.
So, let's fast forward to Monday, April 6, 2015, at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, IN. The streaking hot Duke Blue Devils are facing off against the Wisconsin Badgers, a team who has just knocked off undefeated Kentucky in one of the most entertaining games I have watched in quite some time. Actually, there were a lot of those throughout this tournament, but we can talk hoops more in-depth some other time. Anyways, if college basketball isn't your thing, let me fill you in on some important notes regarding the sport. First, college basketball coaches are some of the most heralded in all of the sporting world. For decades, big-time college basketball coaches have drawn massive crowds and attention from media, fans and players throughout the entire country. One coach in particular goes by the name of Mike Krzyzewski, or as he is known by many,Coach K.
One of the all-time most celebrated coaches, in any sport, Krzyzewski has been at Duke University for thirty-five years. A couple of years back, I decided to swallow my ego and pride and picked a copy of his book titled, "Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business and Life." To be honest with you folks out there, I loathed Coach K for 10-15 years of my life as a North Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan. I couldn't stand the guy. He was unbearable to watch just like his team, and honestly, I was overcome with pure happiness when the television cameras panned to his face after an embarrassing defeat to my Tar Heels. Actually, anytime he lost, I felt better about my day and my life (extreme, maybe?). However, I know that I am not alone in that statement, while I'm sure some fans might even to take those comments even further off the deep end. The hate was real, though, and I was never going to hide it. However, after readingCoach K's book, something changed in me completely, and I'll never forget how that made me feel.
First, I remember feeling angry and pissed off. Those were the first wave of emotions to hit me at the time. I still hate Duke, and I still hate Coach K. Ha! What a waste of time that book was, I thought to myself. I didn't really learn anything new about the game of basketball. Coach K is overrated. Then, a second wave of emotions struck and I felt like someone or some thing had taken complete control of my body. Maybe Coach K isn't that bad after all? Maybe he's one of the better, if not one of, the best coaches of all time. Snap out of it! This is THE COACH K we're talking about here buddy, not your best friend from middle school. Of course I don't like him, or his teams, or the Cameron Crazies, or Krzyzewskiville, or anything related to Duke Basketball, whatsoever. Then, stage three hit, and I felt as if I was going to collapse right then and there. Coach K is a respectable man, with a respectable attitude, and a passion and love for the game that is unmatched. I would have been honored to play for him, and would love for my son to get that amazing opportunity someday. Wow. I couldn't believe the thoughts circulating throughout my head. What in the hell was going on? I felt sick to my stomach. No, seriously: these were flu-like symptoms. How could my most hated program of all-time slowly be creeping into my positive thoughts? That chamber is reserved for good food, beach vacations, beautiful women and dreams of my future life. Duke and Coach K have always been forbidden, yet somehow, one of them had managed to sneak his way into the crawl space, and he didn't plan on leaving. So what did this all mean? Well, after watching Coach K take home his fifth national title last night, I learned a few things.
According to an excellent article written by ESPN's C.L. Brown this morning, Team USA had their fingerprints all over Duke and Coach K's big win last night. Specifically, Brown states, "Mike Krzyzewski, in his constant quest to learn and evolve as a coach, said he used to order instructional videos when he'd notice something from an opponent or a team he watched during a season."
A guy with five national titles, four Olympic Gold Medals and twelve Final Fours was breaking down old tapes just to see how he could help improve his team and his coaching advantage. During his work with the U.S. national team, a clinic was held between some pretty big-time college and NBA coaches. Some of the names included Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, New Orleans Pelicans' Monty Williams and Syrcause head coach Jim Boeheim. To put it simply, Coach K studied the philosophies, attitudes and X's and O's that each of these coaches brought to the table. I mean, we are talking about one of the most successful coaches in any sport throughout history, and Coach K is still the little freshman in class taking notes. Pretty remarkable, huh? Hard to believe, though? Not one bit.
A student of the game his entire life, and a direct descendant of Bobby Knight's coaching philosophies (trust me, Coach K is scary on those sidelines) college basketball fans throughout the nation witnessed history last night. A guy whose team was pretty similar to the once undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, took home the title in Indianapolis last night, and won his fifth title at the program. I'm not sure many of you knew this, but Krzyzewski's first three years at Duke University were not highly regarded. In fact, in today's Twitter crazy world in which we live, Coach K might not have made it past that third year...hell, he might not have made it past the second. But, guess what? He never gave up, and that says everything about his character, commitment and his passion for the game of basketball.
It's easy to quit -- it really is. Yet, it's difficult to keep going and persevere beyond the trials and tribulations that one experiences throughout his or her lifetime. I hate to break it to you, but these negative experiences and tough times are never going to end. So, you can either feel sorry for yourself, or strive for greatness throughout your life. You can either give in to the pressures created by the negative folks around you, or you can eliminate these "friends" from your life and realize that life's battle is actually just an extended game of one-on-one.
Mike Krzyzewski never quit, yet, I'm sure there were many times that he wanted to. I bet he had his dark days in those first three years as a losing head coach with the pressures and whispers slowly creeping in around him. You see, human emotion is weird that way. We all like to think that the most successful, motivated individuals don't go through periods of stress, negativity and hardship. Well, I have some news for you. They do.
These successful individuals are just like me, and they are just like you. They have their good days and their bad, I just believe these know how to manage them better. All-in-all, Coach K could have thrown in the towel and called it quits after that third losing season in a row back during the 1982-1983 season. Yet, he stuck with it and he continued to innovate and build great teams. He continued to implement and test new methods for success, and some of these methods failedmiserably. Making mistakes is part of the plan, but only the great ones realize this. Only the great ones know their own power, and only the great ones know how to channel it. Krzyzewski continued to believe in himself, his team, his wife, his philosophies, his goals, his dreams and his ambitions, and it paid off immensely. Coach K also believes that learning never stops, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why he is one of the greatest to ever do it.