The DiVincenzo Factor

DiVincenzoVillanova-superJumboDonte DiVincenzo winking after a shot against Michigan on Monday. He had 31 points, five rebounds and three assists and was voted Most Outstanding Player in Villanova’s 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Title win.

Credit Ronald Martinez/Getty Images        

Donte DiVincenzo’s name is just like his game: unique and intimidating. I mean, don’t you wish you could have a championship game like Donte DiVincenzo? You know, Villanova’s killer sixth man off the bench who just killed it against upstart Michigan? I mean he KILLED IT! He doesn’t start, and yet he scored thirty-one points, had block after block and timely three pointers to carry his team to victory. It was an impressive performance to say the least. 

One sports writer put it like this: “Had DiVincenzo been in a video game, flames would have been coming off his ball.”

The statistics — 31 points on 15 shots, five rebounds and three assists — still undersell the extent to which DiVincenzo was his team’s fulcrum Monday night. The team’s sixth man, he was the one who stopped the bleeding after the underdog Michigan surprised the 67,831 spectators in the Alamodome and millions more watching on television who had expected a fairly easy victory by Villanova, the top seed.

Before DiVincenzo scored his first basket, Michigan led 14-8. Villanova’s next 8 points were DiVincenzo’s: a 3-pointer, a 3-point play, a jump shot. DiVincenzo responded to ball screens by hitting long 3s from where he was standing or, once, finding Omari Spellman down low on a brilliant bounce pass.

On defense, during one stretch he forced a driving Zavier Simpson into a miss and then, on the next possession, the 6-foot-5 DiVincenzo straight-up blocked an attempted dunk by Charles Matthews. At one point, after back-to-back 3-pointers, DiVincenzo winked at the crowd. He later said he was aiming for Hart.

The moral of the story is this: every team needs a DiVincenzo on their bench because the DiVicenzo factor is so awe-inspiring it sends goose bumps up and down your spine. I’m so happy for him. He could have been a starter on any other team. Instead, he sacrificed playing time and came off of the bench and put the team first. And the end result was another National Championship for Villanova. AND he was rewarded and voted Most Outstanding Player for the Final Four. Wow. March Madness surely went out with a bang.

Sounds like we all could learn a lesson or two from Vilanova and Mr. DiVincenzo. Can you pronounce his name right yet?

Can Clemson Beat Alabama? (Round II)

dabo-swinney2

I like Clemson’s Head Coach, Dabo Swinney. I do. And in Alabama v. Clemson II, I DO think the Tigers can hang with the Alabama Crimson Tide tomorrow night. If Clemson pulls it out and pulls it off, the game will go down to the wire, which means I’ll need to stay up way past my bedtime to watch. Phooey.

Tomorrow night is college football’s big stage: the College Football Playoff National Championship. And on that big stage lies the 60 minutes that separates No. 2 Clemson from winning its first national championship in 35 seasons. To do so, the Tigers must beat No. 1 Alabama, the most successful program of our time. A victory by the Crimson Tide would be the school’s fifth in eight seasons, all under head coach Nick Saban.

Alabama is the college football team everyone loves to hate. People hate and love Alabama basically because of their colorful, crimson character of a coach, Nick Saban. Because of Saban, “‘Bama has been (and will be?) the standard in college football for a long time,” Swinney said before last year’s game. So, the question is this: can Dabo do it? Will Dabo do it? Or more pointedly, how might Dabo do it?

I ask myself these questions each and every day. Can I do it? Will I do it? Or more pointedly, how might I do it – whatever “it” is? And the answer is simply this: if you want to achieve you must first believe. And Dabo is driven and determined and set and settled on beating his alma mater tonight. Good for him. And his win tonight, if he can notch it, will speak volumes and teach another life lesson and set another sports precedent for the rest of us to follow.

On the flip side, Dabo’s desire and drive and desperation just might spell and equal an UPSET for Alabama. Make no mistake about it; even though the Tigers are No. 1, if they win, it WILL be an upset, because Nick Saban will be UPSET!

So here’s to the Clemson Tigers and cheers and hats off to Dabo Swinney. Because if he pulls this one off, he will have kept me up and kept us all awake and keep the college football world roused up and hunkered down to do it. Because it’s going to take some doing to do this. But isn’t that what we all face every day?

Villanova vs. UNC – The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Villanova Defeats UNC InTitle-Game

Villanova beat Kansas. They beat up and beat down Oklahoma. And in the end, on the last play of the game, with a three pointer at the buzzer, they beat North Carolina too. “This was the stuff of legends, after a malaise of mediocrity and blowouts had settled over the NCAA Tournament. This was a championship game for the ages after meager and mediocre Final Four.”

Nova earned this. They completely earned the National Championship Trophy. The Wildcats dominated Oklahoma in the first game of the Final Four. They found their groove from beyond the arc just as March turned wild, with their team at the helm. And then they outlasted arguably the best team not to win a national title. On any other night, North Carolina would have been good enough to win, but not last night.

Last night, the Villanova win and the North Carolina loss was one for the ages. And while the win was earned and very real, it was also almost imaginary and make believe. It was real and unreal, surreal and serene, fabulous and fantastic, unbelievable and improbable, absurd and bizarre all at the same time. The game, unlike any other game, was dreamlike in the wildest sense and nightmarish in the worst.

Magic is not a word you hear in church or find in a good sense in the Bible. But it’s a good word nonetheless. Yes there is “Black” magic, but that has no place here. I’m talking about virgin magic as pure as freshly falling, driven snow. And Villanova, while not a Cinderella team last night like they were oh, so many years ago in 1985 when Rally Massimino’s team beat Georgetown, found the glass slipper and slipped it on just seconds before midnight.

The Villanova / North Carolina game was truly made of magic, as it had all of the same ingredients that magic has. No, magic is not a “Christian” word, per se, but the essence of magic is certainly spiritual. And anything spiritual is wonderful and delightful and charming and captivating and thrilling and chilling all at once.

Villanova’s winsome win was misty and mystic, miraculous and yes, magical.

This game, above just about any other and every other NCAA game we’ve ever seen, was fairy-tale fanciful, story book beautiful and yes, enchanting; it was simply full of pixy dust dazzle. “This game was magic and mania, containing the soul-crushing sorrow and unbridled joy of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, all at once.”

Magical moments included one with Marcus Paige, who channeled so much will and hope and toughness in a surging North Carolina 10-point comeback over the final five minutes, stepped up to the plate and did the impossible: he heaved a 3-point shot, after a double-clutch, and tied the game. Paige pulled this rabbit out of his hat with everything on the line that he and his teammates and his coach craved.

Then there was Kris Jenkins, who took a perfect pass and hit a perfect shot; Jenkins broke the tie and hit the game winner with a buzzer-beater that swished through the net with no time left on the clock. It was a shot heard round the basketball world, never to be forgotten.

This game was so riveting, so exhilarating and so electrifying that “it amplifies the joy and the sorrow for the winners and losers alike. No wonder then that the greatest ending perhaps of all time also gave us the worst heartache ever. Right along with the kind of joy that is reserved for the very few, and the very fortunate, and of course the very deserving.

“But there is, as always in life, another side. It’s our complications that reach us, the disparities and razor-thin margins between joy and depression that makes sports so pure. That ebullient moment in time on the floor was as real and powerful as what was unfolding” so near and yet so far away on the North Carolina bench as heads were hung low and tears began to flow.

In one of the greatest basketball games ever played, we saw the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And such is life. In life there are times when we win big and there are times when we lose large. We both come close and fail and almost lose it and win. And that’s the mystery of this life. Our failures seem like the end and our victories seem like we’ve only just begun. And the mystery of this life is learning how to both enjoy the thrill of victory and endure the agony of defeat, both all at once at the same time.

Can Clemson Beat Alabama?

saban-cover by Monte Burke

With Alabama’s help, tonight I can be in bed at a decent hour because the Brick Red will take the Tigers to the woodshed. I like Clemson’s Head Coach, Dabo Swinney. I do. But I don’t think the Tigers can hang with the Alabama Crimson Tide tonight. I don’t. If Clemson pulls it out and pulls it off, the game will go down to the wire, which means I’ll need to stay up way past my bed time to watch. Phooey.

Tonight is college football’s big stage: the College Football Playoff National Championship. And on that big stage lies the 60 minutes that separates No. 1 Clemson from winning its first national championship in 34 seasons. To do so, the Tigers must beat No. 2 Alabama, the most successful program of our time. A victory by the Crimson Tide would be the school’s fourth in seven seasons, all under head coach Nick Saban.

Alabama is the college football team everyone loves to hate. People hate and love Alabama basically because of their colorful, crimson character of a coach, Nick Saban. Because of Saban, “‘Bama has been (and will be?) the standard in college football for a long time,” Swinney said Saturday.  So, the question is this: can Dabo do it? Will Dabo  do it? Or more pointedly, how might Dabo do it?

I ask myself these questions each and every day. Can I do it? Will I do it? Or more pointedly, how might I do it – whatever “it” is?  And the answer is simply this: if you want to achieve you must first believe. And Dabo is driven and determined and set and settled on beating his alma mater tonight. Good for him.  And his win tonight, if he can notch it, will speak volumes and teach another life lesson and set another sports precedent  for the rest of us to follow.

On the flip side, Dabo’s desire and drive and desperation just might spell and equal an UPSET for Alabama. Make no mistake about it; even though the Tigers are No. 1, if they win, it WILL be an upset, because Nick Saban will be UPSET!

So here’s to the Clemson Tigers and cheers and hats off to Dabo Swinney. Because if he pulls this one off, he will have kept me up and kept us all awake and keep the college football world roused up and hunkered down to do it. Because it’s going to take some doing to do this. But isn’t that what we all face every day?

Who’s Better? The Girls or The Guys?

Kentucky 38-0
Are the girls as good as the guys? Or are the dudes so much better than the dames? In college basketball, at least this year, it’s fairly debatable. And so the age old debate over who’s better at sports has reared its ugly head and pretty face yet again.

In the women’s Final Four, we have Maryland (GO TERPS!) contesting Connecticut, and South Carolina trying to knock off and knock down Notre Dame. It’s a classic Final Four – one which should draw a ton of attention, regardless of gender or age or political affiliation. Yes, this year’s Final Four is one for the ages. While each of the coaches for all four teams are equally impressive, I must give a shout out to Dawn Staley, Coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, who is a Philly Home Girl and a former Temple Coach to boot, I might add. But let’ not forget about Brenda Frese of Maryland and the Dean of women’s coaches, Geno Auriemma of UConn.

In the Men’s Final Four, we have dominant Duke, almost a miracle Michigan State, wannabe Wisconsin and King Kentucky. It’s a collection and collision of creditable coaches trying to cast their company of college characters in a championship light.

So who’s better? The guys or the girls? Both final four’s should be fun to watch and a sight to see. Better? No, that’s not the measure. Equally entertaining and similarly scintillating is what they will be. It’s just a shame that male chauvinism and women’s lib have tainted and tinted and soiled and spoiled a spectator’s sense of what a great sporting event is. The guys still get all of the hub and the bub, but the girls, especially this year, deserve some of the buzz too.

God created us male and female. And of course there are physical and natural and tangible and palpable differences between men and women, but we both want to win in the worst way. So after you attend services this weekend, root, root, root for your own team, or at least adopt one, because the games in both the Men’s and Women’s Final Four should be equally fantastic, and the fans, on both sides, should be utterly enthusiastic about watching high level, high caliber basketball on both sides of the gender coin.

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve got my Lady Terps upsetting UConn, going all the way and beating Dawn Staley and her gals in a final to be remembered. As for the guys, of course Kentucky will go undefeated at 40-0 and take the title.

Survive and Advance: Getting To The Next Level

Benda Frese

My Maryland Terrapin Ladies defeated Duke today and are now a part of the Elite Eight. GO TERPS! Brenda Frese is the real deal. She’s a great coach and she’s got a great team. But how did they do it? And how can they continue to carry on and keep on and go on to win another title?

Brenda Frese Clapping

How do you advance and ascend and progress and proceed to the next level? Simply put, how do you get from being one of many to being the one ahead of any? How do you beat all comers and best every contender? How do you recapture the flag and retake the lead? How do you win JUST wanting to?

How do you overcome your fears and fight back your tears? How do you mend mental mistakes? How do you modify muddles and mollify messes? How do you play under pressure? How do you rebound and regroup and regain control after falling and flailing and floundering? How do you go from being a “wannabe” to receiving Atta boys?

How do you leave the lower level and rise to the rarefied realm of the upper echelon? How do  you climb the mountain and scale the heights? How do you back out of the bottom and trudge towards the top? How do you surge forward and keep from sagging backward? How do you march through the madness and not lose your mind? How do you stop being a wannabe?

A Wannabe is a poser, a follower, and a fake. A Wannabe is one who copies or imitates all or most of the aspects dealing with their idol. They may wish to have certain clothing, skills, vocabulary, etc., of their idols instead of their own. Most likely a wannabe is lacking in self-confidence and is looking for guidance. Most likely a wannabe wants to be just where they are; an also ran and an almost made it. Because they aren’t willing to put in the time or fork over the dime that it costs to make it to the top of their game. But not you.

You and I want to go and want to get to the next level. You and I want to play in the next round. You and I want to survive and advance. The question is, “How?” The way and the key is to hunger and to thirst, to fight and to fume and to scrap and to scrape. The way is to survive and subsist; to come through and pull through; to outlive and outlast any and all comers and contenders that try to knock you off and knock you out.

So again I ask, “How do you go to the next level?” How do you win JUST wanting to? You don’t.

You don’t settle for second and you don’t concede the lead. Don’t do it. Don’t be satisfied with the way things are. Don’t succumb to the way people say things have to be. You are made for more than “would be” and wannabe status. You were made for more. You weren’t made to flounder, you were made to fly.