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?

Duke Dismantles Its Own Destiny 

South Carolina Coach

This just in: Duke is done and Villanova is gone. And UVA, Florida State and and Louisville are all gone too. Oregon and North Carolina came back and held on and eeked out tough wins as they survived to sustain their stay at the Big Dance. And Michigan has now survived an aborted airplane takeoff and two fierce opponents as they continue to survive in March; they won, again, and now they’re on their way to the Sweet 16.

Wisconsin beat Villanova, and South Carolina dumped Duke, and they both won because they played one way: hard. Yes you need to play smart, but you still need to play hard. Duke’s  topsy, turvy, up and down, in and out season came to an abrubt halt and a premature end when every thing they’ve done and been through finally caught up with them.

Carolina wasn’t soft or spongy or squishy or squashy. They were firm and fierce and dogged and determined. Likewise, in life we should play and live with heart and smarts and grit and mettle.  And if your opponent plays hard, you just play harder.

That goes for players and coaches alike. While the players need to play hard, coaches need to work just as hard, and that’s what Frank Martin, coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, did. He cried tears of joy after they defeated Duke, not because he’s soft, but because his players played hard, and I loved every tear.

So be strong. Be stout. Be sturdy. Play and live life one way: hard-nosed and thick skinned. The Urban Dictionary says that hard-nosed is “a tough, straightforward, take-no-prisoners way of carrying oneself. Hard-nosed people may not be sensitive or tactful, but they are gritty and tackle problems head-on.” Amen to that.

And when you’re thick skinned you’re not easily bothered by things and you don’t let your emotions drive the train. That’s my definition. When you’re down, you don’t get down. And when you’re up, you’re still temperate and tolerant. When you have thick skin, you may be passionate, but you’re not really all that emotionally moved or overly sensitive when things don’t go your way.

So don’t take things personally, i.e., “from a personal standpoint or according to your own particular nature or in a subjective rather than an objective way” (Urban Dictionary). Look at the big picture and have eternity in view, because in the end we know we win.

So let’s learn to live every day and every play with the end in mind. Because only the strong know how to play hard and play smart and survive and advance in the Big Dance of life.

Survive The Madness and Advance In March

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Survive and advance. That’s the name of the game. That’s the goal and the general idea. To survive and advance is everyone’s aim and aspiration. That’s what it’s all about, right? So if you snooze, you lose. Because it’s win or go home, baby.

So who ya got? Kansas? UCLA? Arizona? Gonzaga? Kentucky? North Carolina? Last year’s Champion,Villanova? Or God forbid – Duke? It’s the Big Dance and it appears that one of the big dogs will win it all again, unless a Cinderella crashes the party.

Vince Lombardi, the immortal coach of the Green Bay Packers said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Naturally speaking, this phrase has been overblown and misunderstood.  But spiritually speaking, Lombardi was spot on. When it comes to surviving and advancing, Lombardi was right.  Who remembers who came in second place?  Who remembers who was the runner up? Who even remembers the entire final four year in and year out? And is being the second runner-up as rewarding as finishing first?  Is an honorable mention as gratifying as the championship trophy?

Winning is everything. And not just winning, but winning big. I’m not talking about the margin of victory, but the quality of victory. The fiercer the battle, the sweeter the victory. Hard fought wins are more memorable, more satisfying, and more gratifying than all others. And so it is with life. 

The life God wants us to live is about quality, not necessary quantity. Coming back from way back, getting to the ball and not only dancing with the Prince, but falling in love with the prince, and having the Prince hunt her down to see if she fit the glass slipper she inadvertently left behind, is what we all love about Cinderella. That’s why we all love Cinderella stories.  Those improbable victories that no one, I mean no one – not even Hollywood – can script, are what we live and die for.

God loves the long-shot.  God loves the underdog.  God loves Cinderella.  She had undergone mistreatment and maladjustment before she met the Prince at the ball.  But she first believed that she would indeed meet the prince; and along the way she had unlikely help, too.

The Bible says this about victory: “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”  Cinderella believed.  I come back to this because if you can believe, you can achieve. If you can survive, you can advance. Believing is the first step.

Many of us have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, beaten bigger, better, more talented teams, and won when no one gave us a chance.  Many of us have undergone major surgery, endured unforeseen layoffs, weathered 100-year storms, and yet overcame big setbacks and huge letdowns.  We bounced-back, with the help of God and some God-sent friends and fans, and overcame the worst of circumstances.  Cinderella had mice, sparrows, a pumpkin and a Fairy Godmother.  We have those who are Heaven-sent into our lives, who, just when we need them most, come to our rescue and stretch the basketball rim just enough to let the winning shot go in.

The Final Four and Basketball Body Language

Nova-Final-Four

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.