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.

Penn State Redemption

penn-state-tops-wisconsin-to-win-big-ten-championship_5_1Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin hugs his wife after his team defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31 in the 2016 Big Ten Football Championship Game in Indianapolis on December 3, 2016. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI

Penn State’s 38-31 victory over No. 6 Wisconsin in Saturday night’s 2016 Big Ten championship game was bigger than you think. With a convincing win, Penn State won its first conference championship in eight seasons. It was, in part, a vindication for Coach James Franklin and the Penn State Football program.

When the Wisconsin Badgers raced out to a 28-7 lead over the Nittany Lions in the first half, the impact of this year’s successful season was in doubt and it seemed like Penn State Football had only come halfway home. Yet their remarkable comeback in the second half against Wisconsin — the largest in Big Ten title game history – coupled with their victory over Ohio State earlier in the season, was proof positive of the return of Penn State Football. The turnaround removed all doubts about how far Penn State has come since their fall from grace in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In 2012, Penn State Board of Trustees hired former FBI director Louis Freeh and his firm, including a team of former federal prosecutors and FBI agents, to conduct an independent investigation into the scandal. In the opinion of many, the mission Freeh was given seemed to presuppose that Sandusky’s crimes were not his alone and that people who had reason to suspect him had looked away.

Joseph Vincent Paterno, a.k.a. “Joe Pa,” was fired the second to last game of the 2011 season in the middle of the scandal. After being accused in the Freeh Report of withholding information about Jerry Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior in the locker room, in essence, Paterno was found “guilty” in the court of public opinion. A year after the report’s issuance, the chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees, which had originally commissioned the report, said that Freeh’s conclusions amounted to “speculation.”

On September 4, 2013, in an interview conducted by Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports, the former Chief Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Frank Fina, who investigated and prosecuted Jerry Sandusky, stated that he found no evidence that Joe Paterno participated in a cover-up. Fina then qualified that statement, stating that he saw no need to judge Paterno beyond his own words and that Paterno himself said it best. “He said: ‘I didn’t do enough… I should have done more.'”

Because of the findings of the Freeh Report, The NCAA vacated 112 of Penn State’s wins dating back to 1998. This included the removal of Paterno’s last 111 wins at Penn State, dropping him from first to 12th on the all-time wins list. And, while it may never be medically proven, the scandal certainly sucked the life right out of Joe. In November of 2011 it was reported that Paterno had a treatable form of lung cancer.

It is clear to me that the scandal only helped to worsen Joe’s condition, and on January 13, 2012, Paterno was hospitalized for complications relating to his cancer treatment. He remained there until he died nine days later on January 22, 2012.

But redemption is sweet. In 2015, the NCAA reinstated Joe Pa’s wins. And the vigor and vitality of the Penn State football team has been restored as evidenced by the 2016 Big 10 Championship win which was transforming and is heartwarming indeed.

As my momma used to say, “God don’t like ugly.” God will one day right every wrong and make every rough place plain. God will upset the apple cart of your enemies and make every crooked lie straight and every false accusation frivolous.

And that is what has just happened for Penn State.

Kids These Days

karl-anthony-towns-2
 I know that a kid is a baby goat, but the Urban Dictionary also says that a kid is what teenagers claim they are not. And the same uncertain source says that kids are any offspring of any age. When I say kids I’m talking about teenagers and twenty somethings and millennials and college coeds that, by-in-large, haven’t grown up or shown up or come up with what to say or how to contribute in a meaningful way. Without objection, we will go with this definition which is what you and I know a kid to be.

So, kids these days . . .

Kids these days aren’t like the kids of yesteryear. Kids these days aren’t like the kids I played with when I was growing up. Kids these days are self-centered and self-interested; they’re all about “me” and “my” and what happens to them without regard to history or antiquity or much anything else outside of their personal space.

Yes Kentucky lost. They lost because they lost it. And they lost it down the stretch. The kids on Kentucky didn’t have the stamina or the resilience or the fortitude to hold on and hold up and and hold down the fort when it counted. Kentucky, chock full of “kids” — a.k.a, freshman phenoms — couldn’t hold it together or hold out to the end against Wisconsin. Yes they beat Notre Dame, but Wisconsin was different. It appeared to me that in the Wisconsin game, Kentucky expected the opposition to just lay down and give them the game just because they were Kentucky. The Kentucky kids expected to win because they were undefeated and because they were destined to go 40-0 and because things were supposed to go their way . . . just because.

And so the question of the season has been asked and answered. Kentucky’s undefeated, unblemished and untarnished season is no more. It’s OVER. They finished 38-1, with the lone loss coming at the hands of Wisconsin in the Final Four. And it was a game that Kentucky could have won. Tied at 60 with about 3 minutes to go, the wannabe, would-be Wildcats wilted under waves of Wisconsin wear and tear. For their part, Wisconsin weathered and withstood the wall of seven foot tall ballers that really didn’t try hard enough to score in the paint.

Kentucky crumbled during crunch time and stumbled down the stretch. They flubbed and faltered, froze and fumbled away a game that was theirs to win. They looked lost and leery, appeared baffled and bleary, and played no way near like they were the top team of the Tournament.

And so the answer and the reason we don’t want freshman to jump to the NBA after one year is played out yet again. I submit that “One and Dones” aren’t mature enough or secure enough or for sure enough to win tough tight games when the stakes are high and the margin for error is low.  To say that the Kentucky kids were poor sports and sore losers would be an understatement.

Kids these days think they’re entitled to win and to succeed and to go undefeated, just because. Kids these days think they should have a high paying job and the key to a corner office, “just because.” Kids these days think that they are supposed to be indomitable and invincible and unconquerable all at the same time. Not so. There’s such a thing as “paying dues” before you cash in.

My Dad’s generation believed in work. Hard work. And they had a work ethic. They worked hard for everything they got and fought for everything they had and I believe they appreciated it more. I believe that’s a part of God’s Playbook. Kids these days want everything handed to them on a silver platter. Am I right? Of course I’m right. Now if you’re one of those millennials that I’m writing about, you probably disagree, (if you’re still reading) but if you take a minute to measure your standards and your values and your ethics and your morals against, say, Depression Era Die Hards or Bursting Baby Boomers, you will agree that there are distinct differences and clear-cut contrasts between the generations.

But that’s a bigger discussion for another day. I just hope that I passed some of my Dad’s work ethic on to my two millennial sons, and by the looks of what and who they are, I think I did. For now, if the Kentucky kids represent kids these days, then we’re all in for a rude awakening if we symbolically and figuratively hope to win big games or have unbeaten streaks or even have undefeated or unblemished “seasons” in the next generation.

Save The Best For Last

Bobby Knight and indiana_

Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon
Just when I thought a chance had passed
You go and save the best for last.

Impossibilities, yes, but then again, we believe in miracles.

And sometimes teams go unbeaten and sometimes winning streaks go unbroken as the best team of the season goes into the final weekend looking for lore and longing for more. The last time a college team went undefeated was 1976. Bobby Knight took his Indiana Hoosiers to the title and a perfect season.

“Save The Best for Last.” The song sung by Vanessa Williams is considered her signature.  And if the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament story pans out the way wishful and wistful fans furtively feign, the best basketball of the season will indeed have been saved for last.

But first things first. This is a Final Four; emphasis on FOUR. And so the favorite son’s not home yet.  Kentucky will need to be more than lucky to defeat Wisconsin, and if Duke can dash Michigan State, we’ll have the final folks are hankering and hunkering for.

Saving the best for last is more than proverbial; it’s theological. When I was young and my mother cooked all the meals, my younger sister Anne would eat everything on her plate and save what she didn’t like for last. Her strategy was to hopefully not have to eat that vegetable because if she saved it for last, it would be cold and tasteless. This was long before microwaves, and sometimes, but not all of the time, Anne managed to manipulate my mother out of eating those blessed Brussel sprouts or bleeding beets.

On the other hand, my method was to look over my plate and pick out the one thing I liked best. Once I had determined that, I proceeded to eat, but I saved the best for last. And that’s what God does. And that’s what we should do in life. The following is borrowed from Eamonn Brennan, Sports reporter for ESPN:

“The final weekend of the 2015 NCAA tournament appears to have been ordained by the basketball gods. And they said, let there be dream matchups, and there were dream matchups. And they saw that it was good.

The lone surprise, the one lightweight — Michigan State — qualifies only in relative terms. Because Michigan State has saved it’s best basketball for last. Oh, sure, you remember Selection Sunday. Oh, how you mocked the careless analysts. They would talk about all of the reasons why this Michigan State team wasn’t very good, or they’d skip over those entirely, but they’d always end with a hoary old cliche: ‘Then again, never count out Tom Izzo in the NCAA tournament.’

If ever there was a year to do exactly that, it was this one. The Spartans may have pushed Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten tournament title game; they may have even deserved to win. But they’d also been merely OK for most of the three months preceding it, matching each step forward with at least a half-step backward. These undermanned, talent-drained Spartans lost to Texas Southern at home in December, and sure, they got better. But they still finished sixth in a soft Big Ten in points allowed per possession, and fourth on the offensive end.

Naturally, in three straight March games, Michigan State dropped a onetime national title co-favorite (Virginia), the Big 12’s best defensive team sporting its conference player of the year (Oklahoma; Buddy Hield) and, on Sunday, in a heart-pounding overtime thriller, a surging, talented team brilliantly coached by one of the game’s grandmasters (Lousiville, Rick Pitino). Last season, when the Spartans were loaded, with seniors who were the only class in Tom Izzo’s career to never get to a Final Four — that was supposed to be the run. And now look. You’ll never mock the cliche again.

Once you accept that Izzo somehow just pulled off his greatest tourney trick ever, the temptation to pencil Duke in to Monday night’s national title game wanes — though only slightly. Michigan State came together at the right time. It seems, though, with the Spartans that happens nearly every March.

Now, Duke could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky. But before we find out, the Blue Devils have the small matter of an insanely hot Michigan State. And, by the way, the Wildcats have to get past the mother of all Final Four draws: Fellow No. 1-seed Wisconsin.

Two stars, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, have the Wisconsin Badgers back in another Final Four. Why did Dekker and Kaminsky eschew the NBA? To spend another year with friends, sure, but also because of the pain. A year ago, they had Kentucky beat, if only barely, when Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison sank that deep and downright spooky three pointer. Every day since, Wisconsin has been single-mindedly focused on returning to the Final Four — and, if need be, repaying the Wildcats once there.

Now they have their chance.

Of course, these are not last year’s Wildcats. Last year’s Wildcats muddled through a mess of a campaign before flipping some transcendent switch in March. This year’s Wildcats have never flipped that switch off. They’re undefeated, and maybe you’ve heard something about that. But of course you have, because from the moment the Harrisons and Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson (and more) all said they were coming back for another season, Calipari has stood above college basketball like a conquering general: surveying, deploying, dominating. His players, as he keeps saying, are his reinforcements: tanks coming down over the hill. It is, in case you hadn’t heard, 38-0 — two away from 40, two steps from immortality.

There has been only one question worth asking about the 2014-15 season: Who could possibly stop the Wildcats? The answers have always been halting and hedging. But they’ve always been consistent, too.

Wisconsin. And Duke. And just maybe, just maybe, Michigan State. Two of these teams stand in the way of the perfect season for Kentucky. If the Wildcats want those last two wins — and they very much do — they’re going to have to earn them. How epic is that?” http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/tournament/2015/story/_/id/12584844/an-epic-end-ncaa-tournament-awaits-final-four 

So save the best for last. Don’t eat up and woof down the desert before you earn the right to. That is how it was in John Chapter 2 when Jesus performed His first miracle. When Christ changed the water into wine at the wedding banquet, he taught us a valuable lesson. The master questioned why the bridegroom chose to save the best of the wine to serve last. We know that Jesus changed the water into wine, and this teaches us to do and save and be our best both early on and late in the game. Because the best is always better when saved for last.

Don’t Stop The Madness!

MD Terps BBall

That’s right; don’t stop the madness.

For all tried and true, red, white and blue sports fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year. And we love it. The Super Bowl is only one game, the World Series doesn’t generate the gusto, and the NBA and NHL Finals pale in comparison to the madness of March. So don’t stop it.

The madness of it all is that no-one, and I mean no-one, can predict the outcome and the ending and the final score or the margin of victory or the magnitude of misery that will be produced  over the next three weekends.  And there are so many unanswered questions, like these: Can Kansas go all the way? If they don’t who will be the team to stop them. Maryland?   Will there be another Cinderella? And the amusement of the madness is that we don’t know, but we’ll watch as many games as we can to find out.

The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, held every year in the month of March, together (but mostly the men’s – sorry ladies) are considered the premier sporting events in the United States, bar none. It’s a fortnight of watching games and gambles, buzzer beaters and Cinderella sleepers, wild wins and disparaging defeats, all rolled into one raucous ride to the Championship games.

There are a lot of things in sports that need to be stopped, but March Madness isn’t one of them. Out of control boosters and student athletes not earning degrees and the unspoken evil of the “amateur status” of college athletics are all unresolved issues. On the professional front, “free” agency that costs teams millions, out-of- bounds behavior off the field and out of this world salaries are just a few things that need to be reined in, but for now, let’s enjoy another month of college basketball when the underdog is top dog and the favorite may be finished in the first few games.

The madness of it all is that the tournament is still pure and unpolluted, uncontaminated and unadulterated, and no hint of a fix or a fraud can be allegated or substantiated. Yes, there’s the every-year whimpering and whining over the last four teams allowed in and the first four teams left out, but this is all a part of the madness. How DID UCLA get in? Why did Temple get left out? We’ll never settle that argument, so we just live with it and move on. It’s all part and particle of the insanity and the absurdity. And we love it.

So, what needs to be repaired and resolved in your life? Got any madness that needs to be mended? Got any lunacy that needs to be lifted? If you’re like me, you’ve got plenty and a heap. Just make sure that the madness you mend and the lunacy you lend isn’t the glue that’s actually holding the whole ball of wax together.

Most are glad that God so loved this mad, medicated, fast and furious, fuming and infuriated world. God is Love, and Love is a verb, and so Love had to do something for this world. So Love gave His only son to die for this mad, medicated, fast and furious, fuming and infuriated world. And the outrageous and outlandish part of it all is that He loves us in spite of us. That to some, is crazy. That to some, is madness. But don’t stop it. Because we won’t make it without it.

Winning Is Serious Fun

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No one likes to lose and everyone wants to win. While it’s that simple, it’s not that easy. And as they say, “it’s easier said than done.”  Winning is fun; its serious fun. And fun, Biblically speaking, is “joy.” Joy is a positive attitude or pleasant emotion; it means delight.  The joy which the people of God should have is holy and pure. This joy rises above circumstances and focuses on the very character of God.

It is a joy to win, and it is a downer to lose. In losing we learn life lessons. But there comes a time when it’s time to turn in the lessons, and receive a final grade.

No one likes to lose because losing means to slip and to slide, to fail and to flounder, to miss the mission and jettison the job. When you lose you obliterate the operation, but when you win you inaugurate the celebration. Winning cures everything. Winning cures what ails us. But in order to win we must consistently do and persistently say and voice the vision of victory.  Like my Maryland Terps did last night.

My Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team upset No. 5 Wisconsin last night, 59 -53 . It was a fantastic finish to a wonderful win. Dez Wells, Maryland’s senior star, consistently and persistently poked and prodded his teammates to victory.  He mandated that they could win; he pleaded that they should win; and in the end, he ensured that they would win. And win they did. And they had fun doing it, and the fans had fun celebrating it, as they rushed the court to celebrate after the final buzzer sounded.

Everyone wants to win. And Dez Wells does too. He scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had four assists; not too shabby. Wells was the spark and the sparkle of the team. AND, I’m convinced that my Terps can play like that all of the time. Instead of being hot and cold and off and on, sometimes up and sometimes down, these Terps could be the best of the best most of the time.  The sky is the limit.

Winning like the Terps did last night makes one ponder and pose and consider and conceive – and even expect — how life would be if we played well all of the time. Just suppose; just imagine; just think of how good we could be if we hit on all cylinders at least MOST of the time? But alas, this season my Terps didn’t; and unfortunately they haven’t – played their best every game — but they could’ve.  And the same goes for all of the rest of us too.

Everyone wants to win and no one likes to lose. Because winning is serious. It’s means something and it matters everything. Why? Because winning is communicable and contagious; winning is transferable and transmittable; but so is losing. And the line and the limit between losing and winning are so thin you can barely see it with a magnifying glass.

Since everyone wants to win, and everyone is serious about winning, we strive for precision and perfection; we strive for faultless and flawless; we strive for the fantastic and the fanciful. We strive for Oscar-winning performances on and off the court. And with help from the Heavens, we hope to have happy, healthy, joyful and jovial endings to all, or at least most, of our games. It’s that serious.

And here’s an excerpt from Washington Post Sports Columnist Jason Ried’s article on the win:

“Recent signs indicate the Terrapins possess what it takes to have some fun in the NCAA tournament, and the biggest one occurred Tuesday night during a stirring 59-53 victory over formidable Wisconsin.”

“Dez Wells wouldn’t let us lose,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Melo was Melo.”

“Picked 10th in the conference preseason poll, Maryland steadily has gained supporters. It’s easy to like an up-and-comer that seemed to come from nowhere. Guess who was ahead of the pack.”

“The victory was the Terrapins’ best of the season by far . . . “

And that’s serious, and that’s fun.

Narrow It Down To Four

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It all boils down to four; four teams who are playing their best at the right time of the year. Some say they’re the best teams; please notice that I didn’t say that these are the four best teams, but they are the four teams who are playing their best. Florida, Kentucky, UConn and Wisconsin – all are legitimate contenders for the title. So the lesson is this: save the best for last. Be at your best when life gives you its worst. Do all of the little things that add up to one big thing. And don’t take your opponent for granted.

Wisconsin Win

Finally we have a four. Four represents completeness. Four winds, four corners, four quarters and four quadrants (we will omit four letter words). Biblically speaking, we have the four rivers of Paradise in Genesis and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelation. When you have four you have two pairs –  two half parts of a whole. It all has to boil down to four, and then to one.

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On paper and on the court, by all accounts, it’s a fine Final Four we have. Florida dispatched the darling of the ball Dayton; Kentucky is playing their best ball and they won the best game of the tournament against Michigan; UConn unraveled Michigan State; and Wisconsin bested Arizona. Now, Wisconsin will face Kentucky and UConn has a rematch from an early season game with Florida. Each team will realize that their opponent is going to be, to mix sports metaphors, a tough Out.

julius-randle

So narrow it down; narrow it down to a maximum of four. To avoid being overwhelmed and undermanned, outgunned and inundated, narrow it down. We try to do too much and then wonder why we accomplish so little. We try to cram it all in, and in the end we end up having it hang all out. We try to achieve it all, and in the end we don’t do that much at all. We have too much stress and too little margin in our lives. So narrow it down! Doing four things well is better that doing fourteen things halfway. Narrow your wants and your wishes, narrow you fancies and your fantasies, narrow your longings and your cravings, your anticipations and your expectations, and focus on what means and matters most to you.