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April 11, 2013

Tim Kolodziej: Some lessons we can learn from the Final Four

NEW CASTLE — So, what’s your excuse?

I mean, what do you tell people when they ask why you’re still stuck in the same (fill in the blank)?

Enough, already.

You’re busted.

This year’s Final Four has called you out. All those “reasons” you continue to blame for you not (fill in the blank), have been exposed as nothing more than excuses.

Need proof? We don’t even need to rehash the entire weekend of action. Let’s keep it simple and explore four top storylines from Monday night’s NCAA Championship Game between Louisville and Michigan.

Or, to put it another way, the college basketball season’s Final Four lessons on the lies we continue to believe about ourselves.

Excuse 1: “I’m too old” or “I’m too young”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino is 60. So is Michigan’s John Beilein.

You may have noticed the two pacing the sideline in front of nearly 75,000 fans at the Georgia Dome and millions more watching on TV.

Pitino won his second NCAA title on Monday night, becoming the only coach to capture two at different schools.

It appears 60 is the new ... well, 60. In other words, it really doesn’t matter how old — or how young — you are to assume your role. VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens faced off in the 2011 Final Four. Both are just pups in their 30s.

Jim Boeheim of Syracuse led the Orange to Atlanta this year at 68.

The Lesson: Don’t let the world tell you it can’t be done because of your age. If you have a passion and a plan, don’t allow the date on your birth certificate to be a barrier.

Excuse 2: “I’ll never get a chance.”

Too small. Too slow. Too one-dimensional. Too stupid, too fearful ... too (fill in the blank).

Too bad.

Two players tossed all of those excuses aside on Monday night to provide some of the biggest thrills we’ve ever seen in a championship game.

Neither Luke Hancock of Louisville nor Spike Albrecht of Michigan is “good enough” to start for their teams. But as we learned over the past couple of weeks, circumstances can change quickly. Very quickly. Yesterday’s benchwarmer is today’s trending topic on Twitter.

Hancock and Albrecht didn’t have time to GET ready for their opportunity. They had to BE ready. And both seized an opportunity in a big way.

Albrecht, who had only one other scholarship offer coming out of high school in Indiana, became a cult hero for the Wolverines after pouring in 17 points in the first half. In the previous five NCAA tournament games, he had a TOTAL of 19 points.

Hancock performed even better. The junior transfer from George Mason was named Most Outstanding Player — the first time a non-starter has received that honor in NCAA Tournament history, which dates to 1939. He tied a career-high with 22 points in Louisville's victory.

The Lesson: Work hard. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Maintain a great attitude. And, above all, understand your role and carry it out to the best of your ability. Albrecht and Hancock weren’t sent into the game to rebound or defend the post. Their job was to get buckets. Mission accomplished.

Excuse 3: “I really messed up. My career is toast.”

Let’s return to Pitino. It’s strange to even say that because just a few short years ago, we didn’t know if he would be returning to the Louisville sideline after he was embroiled in a bizarre sex scandal.

Pitino's one-night stand with a woman in a Kentucky restaurant nearly led to his firing under a “moral depravity” clause in his contract.

Today, he’s basking in the glow of a second NCAA title.

The Lesson: Pitino screwed up big-time, admitted his adultery in a nationally televised press conference, restored his relationship at home, apologized to his university and his team, then returned to his vocation with more desire than ever. Here’s the formula again:

•Mess up

•’Fess up

•Get back up

•Don’t let up.

None of us is immune to stupid behavior, but we’ve seen over and over that we live in a very forgiving nation. Sure, the haters will remind us daily of our foolishness. But we’ll be reminded even if we DON’T return to the arena. Might as well make a difference in the future as we move beyond our past.

Excuse 4: “I can’t help my team if I can’t play.”

In 20 years when we reflect on the 2013 NCAA Tournament, we may or may not remember Florida Gulf Coast, but no one will ever forget Louisville’s Kevin Ware.

Despite suffering a devastating leg injury against Duke in the East Regional Final, Ware became the unquestioned motivating force for his team’s run to the title.

Only seconds after his horrific injury, Ware displayed leadership and grace as he urged his teammates to “win the game” as they held his hands and prayed with him.

The Cardinals, who openly wept on the floor as they witnessed Ware in agony, were, in essence, “given permission” by him to roll past the Blue Devils and into the Final Four.

Ware led by example. Ware led through his encouraging words. Ware didn’t have to suit up to play a vital role on a championship squad.

The Lesson: You can be part of a team. Or you can be a MEMBER of a team. The difference is your commitment.

What’s got you sidelined today? Illness? Injury? Academic difficulties?

Are those reasons for not being more involved? Or simply excuses?

I think we all know the answer.

That said ...

•I don’t want to hear that you’re too young or too old. As we’ve witnessed this week, your age doesn’t matter.

•I don’t want to hear that you’ll never get a chance. As we’ve witnessed this week, you never know when your opportunity will come.

•I don’t want to hear that you really messed up and ruined your life. As we’ve witnessed this week, people DO get second chances. Make the most of them.

•And I don’t want to hear that you can’t help your team if you don’t play. As we’ve witnessed this week, you CAN lead without a title — or without even stepping onto the floor.

But, as always, it’s your call.

Excuses ... or motivation.

Nightmare ... or dream.

Today, right now, can be your “One Shining Moment.”

But you’ll never know if you don’t get into the game.

 



In cased you missed, the 2013 edition of "One Shining Moment."

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