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.  

Are You Ready For March Madness? You Should Be!

MD Terps BBall

Yeah, yeah yeah. I know. It’s still February. But March is right around the corner. And this college basketball season coincides with a presidential election year and as we all know, anything can happen.

Let’s check the political “standings,” shall we? Hilary is holding on and Bernie Sanders is holding out and Trump is winning and Bush is losing – er, what’s that? Wait, what? Bush pulled out of the race? Ohmygosh. The presidential election “preseason” pick to win it all just went down in flames. Apparently, America is in no mood for Bush III. There goes the far right republican response to the hot headed hooligan who’s running away with the popular vote; if you think what he says is “popular.” This, my friends, is politics’ version of March Madness.

Donald Trump is such a polarizing symbol. He’s become the non, negative extreme example and the pious, poster boy picture of what March Madness has come to mean to the political machine. In basketball, we’d call Trump an underdog. But he’s an apt allusion for a country that’s used to their front-runners winning and their favorites grinning and their unwanted waning and the forlorned fading into the background. But not anymore. The age of upsets has come to politics. So watch out.

All right already — enough of that politics stuff. Let’s get back to basketball. College basketball.

This college basketball season, the top seeds are falling and the bottom feeders are rising and there’s no clear cut favorite to win it all. It’s just about anybody’s race. You could argue that anyone of the top ten teams in the country can win the championship. Villanova is No. 1. Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia (Virginia?), Xavier, Michigan State and West Virginia all are in the Associated Press Top 10 Poll this week, (emphasis on THIS week) and anyone of them could win it all. OK, maybe not Virginia (Sorry Cavalier fans). And then there’s my Maryland Terrapins! That’s right, MY team! Let’s Go Terps!

So, who ya got? Who’s going to go all the way and go to the Final Four in Houston and cut down the nets? It could be my underachieving Maryland Men’s Basketball Team coached by Mark Turgeon. And if 23-5 is underachieving, then what does overachieving look like? What will the Terps look like when (not if) they put it all together and they REALLY start playing?

And that’s the lesson for the rest of us. We are doing OK most of the time, but then there comes the slip up and the hiccup and the hitch and the glitch that delays our destiny. So we have to do just like my Terrapins did against Michigan today: continue to battle through missteps and mistakes and stop doubting and keep believing. In other words, just hold on. It’s not over yet. Maryland can will it all. And spiritually speaking, you and I can too.

And I believe Maryland will. So there. I said it. And I mean it. And I’m ready for March Madness. Are you?

College or Pro Ball? (We All Know The Answer To That)

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There’s nothing like college basketball.

Nothing. In college ball, there’s nothing like the thrill of an upset victory or the pain of  an agonizing defeat. Nothing. At the college level, there’s nothing like a come from behind win or a loss at the buzzer. And that’s why college ball puts the NBA to shame. Yes we watch the NBA, and have loved Magic and Mike and Kobe and Kareem and Larry Bird and LeBron James and John Wall and Marc Gasol and Stephen Curry (of course) and all of our past and present stars, but the NBA comes in second to our first love of college basketball.

There’s nothing like college basketball. That’s why the NBA is a distant third cousin to the college game, and the NCAA tournament is far and away superior to the NBA playoffs any day. I went to Maryland, and lost my voice many a night at Cole Field House rooting for my Terps. That’s why I can say unequivocally that no NBA game in ANY season, playoffs or not, will have a fraction of the passion of what we saw Tuesday night at Xfinity Center when Melo Tribble and my University of Maryland Terrapins got the best of the Georgetown Hoyas, 75-71.

Flipping from an NBA game to the new and nascent rivalry between crosstown rivals Maryland and Georgetown is like going from a Bentley to a broke down VW Beatle. Going form a bad game between two decent pro teams to a Duke-Carolina or Kentucky-Louisville or Cal-UCLA rivalry game is like going from watching downhill skiing to watching paint dry. It’s not even close. It’s not even a fair fight. It’s no contest. The best players in the world play in the NBA, but the best isn’t always more entertaining to watch, particularly in a league with the NBA’s structure. The long season with the longer playoff schedule is insane. Give me college basketball every day of the week and all day twice during March Madness.

So don’t get it twisted. Don’t substitute the lesser for the greater. And the spiritual side of us is greater than the physical side of us. All day any day, and twice on Sunday. So don’t settle and don’t surrender. Don’t concede and don’t compromise. Don’t forego and don’t forfeit. Anything. And especially the quality of roundball you watch.

So join me and let’s watch my Maryland Terrapins, at this writing ranked No. 3 in the country, give us good wins and great games. And keep an eye on Kentucky and UNC and a few other juggernaut teams too. It promises to be an awesome college basketball season. And root for the Terps when we play UNC on December 1st. It will be a better game than any other pro game on that night.

Just watch.

Pretty Ugly: We Didn’t Have A Prayer

West Virginia v Maryland
Sports is full of oxymorons. An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory. Team names like the “Fighting Quakers” comes immediately to mind. And for those that don’t know, Quakers are pacifists, meaning they don’t believe in fighting but instead take “turn the other cheek” quite literally. I went to a Quaker school in Philly (so ask me how I know). And saying we “didn’t have a prayer” is certainly an oxymoron, because there is always hope; but you’re gotta have hope in order for there to be hope. 

Other examples of oxymorons in sports include “boxing ring,” “warming down,” and “forward lateral.” Everyone knows that a boxing “ring” is square, that you warm up when you’re cold, not down, (after a work-out you cool off, but surely I digress) and you can’t go forward and move laterally at the same time. And here’s another one you can add to the list: the Maryland/West Virginia game in the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament last night was pretty ugly.

The Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team had a great season with an awful ending. By most standards and all accounts, the Terps over-achieved and over-reached and over-performed and had a record-setting season; they won a ton of games, but just came up short at the end. Unfortunately, their season did not match their play last night.

Last night, oxymorons were everywhere and allusions abounded. The Terps played with sharp dullness and tired energy and sloppy efficiency. They turned the ball over 21 TIMES! Twenty-One times! Seriously? And Melo Trimble got hurt, so any hope of winning went out the door when he went down on the floor. Oh well. But even with Melo the Terps were amazingly unexceptional and happily horrible. Last night was painful and stressful and awful and woeful; on the other hand, the entire length of this all of a sudden short season, a.k.a., the season as a whole, was exciting and exhilarating and thrilling and bone chilling. Go figure. And such is life.

In life you learn to take the good with the bad and the ups with the downs and the wins with the losses. You learn to accept the incongruities and the ambiguities of a good team going cold or a bad team getting hot. It’s called living and dying with your team and loving and hating them simultaneously all at the same time. You have to learn to run slow and walk fast and to be nasty with a smile, all at once.

So keep your heads up, Terp Fans. Dez Wells and Melo Trimble are the ones that got us to the Big Dance, and you’re supposed to dance with the girl that you got, not the one you’re trying to get. And she’s still our “girl” even though the dance last night was pretty ugly. But with Mello and the rest of the freshman coming back, we’re actually sitting pretty.

In sports, there are oodles of oxymorons. There’s crying and amidst and alongside the celebration, because only one team can win the last game of the season. Only one team can walk off of the court and say that they went out on top. And only one team can cut down the nets. So far, Kentucky is still the front-runner, with Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona and Gonzaga all close seconds, nipping at their heels.

And so may the Best Team (Kentucky?) win. But that too, can be an oxymoron. And I borrow this clip from Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:

The thing to remember about Maryland’s season-ending, 69-59 loss to West Virginia on Sunday night wasn’t the final score. It wasn’t the aesthetics, either; West Virginia’s manic style could make the Harlem Globetrotters look sloppy. And it certainly wasn’t the ending — after Melo Trimble was sidelined by two blows to the head, things fell apart, fans in yellow roaring as the typically composed Terps unraveled.

No, the moment to remember came in the first half, when the Terps were still streaking up and down the court with a lineup featuring Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky. That’s four freshmen, for those without a lineup card, and it speaks to the lasting emotion of this Maryland season: renewed hope.

A Good Loss Is Better Than A Bad Win

SmotryzYou may not agree, but first, hear me out.  A good loss is better than a bad win. For starters, winning is born in your brain and hatched in your head.  You can’t teach mental toughness; it’s something that you have to learn on your own. And sometimes, you learn by losing.

You have to get tired of losing when you shouldn’t before you can weather the storm and win when with a weak mind you otherwise wouldn’t.    You have to know you’re going to win before the game gets going or you’re doomed from the jump.  And you have to hold your head up, dust yourself off and somehow still make headway even when you lose a big lead.

Second, the true test of a champion is how you react to adversity. It’s easy to be excited and elated when your shots are falling and the crowd is cheering and everything is going your way. But what do you do when the chips are down and the jig is up and your shots don’t fall and nothing is going your way?

A good loss is better than a bad win because you learn more from a loss than you do from a win. That being said, you play to win the game. Right? So if you lose, the loss should be a motivator and an instigator; a loss should be motivation and inspiration to fuel the fire for the following fight.

A good loss is a loss littered with lessons and logic for life. A good loss is chock full of coaching and counsel and advice and admonition. A good loss is full of teaching moments; it’s full of testing and training, and instruction and induction for living better and winning bigger.  You can learn a load from a good loss.

A bad win is a win won without merit or without warrant. It’s a win that belongs to someone else.  It’s like kissing your sister or stealing from your mother; you just know it’s not right. You won but you know you shouldn’t have; you won but you know it was fool’s gold. A bad win is not sustainable. Meaning, you couldn’t duplicate it if you tried one hundred times.

My Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team just notched a good loss. They started fast and finished slow, and hopefully learned that the game is not won in the first five minutes.  It’s takes a team playing as a unit and working together as a trained troop to pull out and pull off a win. And against Michigan State in the semi-finals of the 2015 Big Ten Tournament, that just didn’t happen.

So while I’m mad we lost, I’m glad we didn’t win. Not playing like that.  With the game on the line, the stars played poorly and the supporting cast didn’t pick up the slack. Worst still, they let Michigan State get in their head. And that made me mad more than the loss itself.

Hopefully, the Terps learn from this what it takes to win on the road in a hostile environment.   Winning is as much if not more mental than it is physical, and the sooner we all learn that lesson the better.