Villanova All The Way, Baby!

  

Villanova looks invincible, and virtually, if not totally unstoppable. The Wildcats dismantled Kansas on Saturday night in the second half of the Final Four, and it was so bad it wasn’t worth staying up to watch till the bitter sweet end to hear the final buzzer sound.  So that’s that.  Villanova will defeat Michigan tonight, and it might not even be close.

As for the Cinderella team that everyone wanted to see win it all, the ballerina’s debutant ball ended all too early for Loyola-Chicago. Sister Jean’s prayers took them farther than she thought, but not as far as they wanted to go.

And that sounds just like life. Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, and other times we must do exactly as the hymn writer says: “watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.” Sometimes the best place to be is found in Jesus and lost in God.

Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Sometimes the lessons we must learn are more important than getting an “A” on the test. And sometimes the final grade is not as important as the scores of notes we’ve taken along the way. If March Madness doesn’t teach us anything, then the madness has been for nothing. The life lessons we learn along this sometimes rocky road called life can’t be for naught. They just can’t be.

In everything there is a lesson. One of them is everything is subject to change. Because the only constant is change. We must be ready to roll with the punches and rock with the boat. And that’s what winners that did not expect to win many games, such as Loyola-Chicago and UMBC and Kansas State did.  And the losers that did not expect to lose, or to lose so early, such as UVA and North Carolina and Kansas, had to handle unexpected headache and heartbreak too.

Sports helps us with the fact that in life, you win some and you lose some. And that’s just the way it is. Because it’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Note From Oregon and South Carolina: “We’re The Little Engines That Could!”

Oregon vs. Kansas

I am so happy for the Oregon Ducks. I am. They KO’ed Kansas, and now they’re on their way to the Final Four. They have players like Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell. Go Ducks! The Oregon motto was “Don’t sleep on us.” And Kansas did just that, to their peril. The Associated Press said this: “With swagger and verve and downright prolific shooting, the plucky team that everybody wanted to count out rolled to a 74-60 victory over the Jayhawks on Saturday night, earning the Ducks their first trip to the national semifinals in nearly 80 years.

‘You feel so good for so many people,’ said Ducks coach Dana Altman, who is headed to his first Final Four after 13 trips to the NCAA Tournament. ‘It’s a team effort. You feel good for a lot of people.’ Indeed, a whole lot of people had a hand in it.

Tyler Dorsey hit six 3s and poured in 27 points, and Dillon Brooks added 17 points; and what about the defense of Jordan Bell? Bell finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a virtuoso performance for the Ducks (33-5). Bell was a man among men as he single-handedly shut down the Kansas offense. Oregon seized the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed the rest of the way.”

South Carolina Coach and Players

And what about the South Carolina Gamecocks? They took on and took out Duke and Baylor and Florida, and now they’re on their way to their first Final Four, ever. In the Elite Eight, South Carolina was seeded as a No. 7, and Florida, seeded as a No. 4, with its portfolio of postseason pedigree, couldn’t stop a determined South Carolina squad.  Their victory “T” Shirts read: “Cut the Nets.”  To the victor goes the spoils.  And I love their coach.  Just look as his facial expression. Frank Martin coaches with the intensity and the  propensity to push and pull and poke and prod his team on to victory.  Love it. 

So the correlation is clear. You must believe that you can! Just like the children’s book entitled, “The Little Engine That Could,” first and foremost we all need to dig deep and double down and stop listening to the naysayers who say that we don’t have the right stuff and we don’t do the right things and we’re too awkward and too backward and we’re too this and too that, and blah, blah, blah.  Phooey!

So here’s a homework assignment. Let’s all go and find and get and read “The Little Engine That Could,” again, or the first time. It’s an illustrated children’s book that became widely known in the United States after publication in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The story is used to teach children (and dare I say adults?) the value of optimism and hard work, something we all need a little more of. Amen

The Final Four and Basketball Body Language

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I love taking and critiquing a good photograph, especially a sports photograph. A really good photo must be formed and framed, fashioned and formatted. Not surprisingly, the photos I choose for each blog are as important and as the blog itself. I agonize and scrutinize dozens of stock photos to get just the right one for each blog. The pictures and the prose go hand in hand.

In the first photo, both hands are raised and the eyes are ablaze (or should be) and the winning Villanova teammate is celebrating a big win over mighty Kansas. It’s a picture of positive body language. Nuff said.

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The next photo, showing two of my Maryland Terrapins, is a classic lesson in negative basketball body language. You don’t have to know the final score to know that these two didn’t win. You didn’t even have to watch the game to know that their team didn’t move on. You just have to watch and study the body language.

Rasheed Sulaimon, the player on the left, is moving slowly, the shoulder on the left slightly lower than the shoulder on the right. Melo Trimble, his partner in crime, is also moving slowly as he sulks and saunters his way off of the court and out of the competition for the National Title. Both heads are hung and all four shoulders have none of the bounce or buoyancy that they had just minutes before. Both player’s bodies are slumped like they’ve been dumped and they’re wilted and faded like an old flower that has faded. Both players seem empty and dry, without direction and with simply no words left to mention.

How different will the body language be for the winners of tonight’s Final Four games? Either North Carolina (my pick) or Syracuse, Oklahoma or Villanova will be laughing and leaping and running and dancing and shouting and screaming.  There will be joy and gladness and rejoicing and yes, shear utter madness.

Winners and losers have different body language. And these two languages are as far as the east is from the west, and as far apart as night is from day, and as sunshine is from rain, and as the dead of winter is from the high heat of summer.

And so the lesson is this: don’t let the roller coaster emotions of March Madness get the best of you. Don’t let your body dictate your language.  Yes you can be elated or deflated, up or down, jubilant or jettisoned, but you don’t have to let these emotions drive the train. Yes the winners will be glad, and yes the losers will be sad, but the seasoned veterans will be able to take it all in and eventually be moderate regardless of the final score.

And in life, we should be too.

The Pain Of Loss

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I just lost my mom. “Loss” is the conventional, politically correct term you use when a loved one or friend passes away. My mom was sick and she died on March 8th, right in the middle of March Madness. So this March, the madness of March was more maddening for me for so many days in so many ways and on so many levels. So that’s why I haven’t been writing or posting for a while.

A loss hurts. A loss burns and bruises and even barks and bites. A loss can break and bend and twist and curve and swerve and nerve your emotions and affections like nothing else can.

For Christians, when someone we know dies, our loved one is not “lost” per se; it’s just that their presence is lost; they’re physically dead and gone to us. And there’s nothing we can do to bring them back. But they’re not lost as if we can’t find them, because we know where they are. However, it’s still a loss of their face and their embrace and their voice and their visits and their laugh and their love.  

While it does not compare — not hardly – the University of Maryland Basketball Team lost. Actually, my team won and lost. They won 27 games, but they lost 9. They began the season 15-1 and finished 14-8, but in March they were 5-3 and they finished the season a woeful 5-6, dating back to that mind bending, nerve numbing, unexplainable, inexplicable loss at lowly Minnesota on February 18th and the home loss to Wisconsin on February 13th.

According to Joshua Needleman of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student run newspaper, “The sentiment for much of the season was when — not if — the Terps started clicking, they’d be unstoppable. They stormed to a 15-1 start even while working through some kinks.”

“Yet in an odd twist, the Terps didn’t get better or wiser over time — like my mom — or like that bottle of Chardonnay residing untouched in the cellar for years. They slowly fell apart, each loss sapping more and more of the fan base’s confidence. There always seemed to be something going awry, a new question that needed an answer.”

In another excellent article written by Alex Kirshner of the TestudoTimes, Kirshner writes “Maryland’s basketball team existed in a weird space this year. The Terps entered the season as a popular national title pick, and they remained so well into February. Even this March, plenty of people thought they had it in them. In the days leading up to the Terps’ season-ending loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16, I’d come around to expecting Maryland to beat the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed. The Terps had a tantalizing glow about them, even when they weren’t their best.

The Terps wound up winning three times as many games as they lost, finishing 27-9. That’s really good for most programs, and it’s really good for Maryland. The Terps made their first Sweet 16 since 2003, which is quite an achievement. But in the end, why did the season seem so unsuccessful?”

 That’s a question that begs an answer. As with all of the other teams that lost in the NCAA Tournament, we have the hope of next season, and the high expectations of seeing Maryland players go on to the NBA and doing well (but if the underclassmen just came back for one more run!)

With all loses, we must look back, reminisce and recall to mind the mercies of the Lord. We must savor the good and sift through and sift out the bad. My mom was sick — I mean really sick — for the last six months of her life. I watched as she withered away, and the loss of her health and her strength was as hurtful as the loss of her presence.

But the grandkids and my sisters and I have the legacy of her love, many, many, meaningful memories and the wonderful well wishes and the sweet scented sentiments of our family and friends that will carry us till we see her again one day.

Sweet And Sour Sixteen

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My University of Maryland Terrapins are good enough to go all the way. And, at times, they’re bad enough to go nowhere.  That’s the sweetness and sourness of my team. And Jake Layman has been as sweet and sour as they come. No offense to Melo Tribble, but Layman is the lynchpin. As goes Layman, so go the Terps. When he’s hot, they’re hot, and when he’s not, they’re not. So let’s hope that Layman lays it all down and leaves nothing on the court tonight. That would be sweet. They’ve made it to the Sweet 16 and they’re facing the Top Seeded Kansas Jayhawks tonight. At 9:40 pm. So I’m grateful that I’m not going to work tomorrow.

So how ‘bout it? Do you think my Terps stand a chance? Do the pundits and the experts and the sages and the sports scholars think they stand a chance? But does that even matter? For that matter, does what others think about you matter? Of course not! What matters is, do the TERPS themselves think they stand a chance?

And that’s where most of us miss it. We turn sour and we lose our sweetness and freshness and pureness when we crave the praise of men. When we crave adoration and confirmation and affirmation to the point where we wilt and wane and wither and waste away if we don’t get a pat on the back or a smack on the butt, we’re finished before we even begin. Don’t get me wrong; we all need encouragement, but if we don’t get it we should not give up the fight. What matters most is what God says and what we believe about what HE says. I’ll say my own amen on that one. AMEN!

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d bet the house on my Terps. It’s all or nothing. Do or die. Win or go home.  The sweet part of the Sweet 16 is that 16 teams have advanced this far. The sour part is that there are 52 other teams that did not make it this far and wish they could have. That’s a lot of teams. Michigan State is one of them, but let’s not go there, right? And so a lot of other teams went down to the wire but lost at the buzzer. That’s the sour side of sports in general and the Sweet 16 in specific. Someone has to lose. Just don’t let it be you.

The sweet side is that Maryland is one of a few teams that can boast and brag that they’re played good enough at the right time to be on the national stage under the national spotlight and have an outside chance at winning it all. Most importantly, they believe.

And herein lies the lesson. YOU have got to believe for others to believe.  If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes to take what life’s got, then go home now. Go straight home. Do not pass “GO”. Do not collect $200 (a Monopoly Game analogy, for those that remember and love that great game). Facing Kansas could be taken as a sour taste and an offensive smell. But it’s all a part of the package of life. Kansas is the opponent and they must be beat. To sulk at the prospect of facing Kansas is to doubt and to pout when instead the Terps should believe.

That’s it. That’s it right there. First and foremost, you’ve gotta believe. Because faith without works is dead. So, while you’ll have some days that are dark and some hours that are dour and sour, focus and fixate and zero in and put all the money on the sweet taste of victory. Then you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. So play like there’s no tomorrow. And if my Terps don’t there won’t be a tomorrow. At least not for them.  

I Can’t Believe I Missed The Big Game!?

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Last night I missed the big game. I mean I missed The Game! No. 1 Kansas played No. 2 Oklahoma in one of the biggest mid-season matchups in memory. And I missed it! And to top it all off, the game went to triple – I said TRIPLE OVERTIME! What was I thinking? 

It’s difficult, by definition, for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown to exceed expectations. But Oklahoma-Kansas somehow did it Monday night. I mean it really, really did it. Did I mention that it took three — three! — overtimes to settle things! In end, which I missed because I went to bed (Slacker!), the Jayhawks held on to beat the Sooners. Final: No. 1 Kansas 109, No. 2 Oklahoma 106.

Wait! What?!

“Toughest game I’ve ever played in,” said Kansas senior Perry Ellis, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds and still wasn’t even close to being the star of the game.  That’s because Buddy Hield was.

The Oklahoma senior took 23 shots, made 13 and finished with a career-high 46 points while making a strong case that he should be the leading candidate for National Player of the Year. This was Hield’s fifth 30-point game this season, and his fourth in OU’s past seven contests. And yet it might forever be bittersweet in his mind, and for three reasons.

Hield turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third OT.  Hield missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that, if good, would’ve forced a fourth OT.  And, of course, Oklahoma lost.

Still, what a game — for Hield, for Ellis and for college basketball in general.

You like comebacks?

There were plenty. And what’ll be forgotten by most, because of the three overtime periods, is that both teams actually held double-digit leads in regulation. Kansas led 32-21 in the first half. Then Oklahoma led 54-44 in the second half.

Still, the game was somehow tied at the end of regulation. And tied at the end of one overtime. And tied again at the end of a second overtime, at which point it became only the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in college basketball history to ever reach three OTs.

In sports and in life, there will be missis and miscues, bloops and blunders, errors and errata. But don’t lose hope. There will be another big game, another big matchup and another big showdown. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t beat yourself down. Take it from me. I was tired last night, and I still overslept this morning! So, don’t lose heart because I won’t lose sleep. While you can’t win’ em all, you can still try, try, try again.