State of the Game

State of the Game

Last night, the Baylor Bears topped defending champs Notre Dame to win the NCAA women’s basketball championship. It is the third title for the Lady Bears and coach Kim Mulkey, and firmly plants the program among the elite in women’s college basketball.

Three hundred and fifty miles up the road from Baylor in Lubbock, Texas, lies the campus of Texas Tech University. Their men’s basketball squad will be looking to make it an all-Texas affair as they face off tonight against Virginia in the men’s NCAA title game in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the first appearance in the national championship game for the Red Raiders (as it is also for Virginia), and Tech has a Husky effort to bring a title to the Lone Star State in the same year as their peers at Baylor.

The NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament was inaugurated in 1982, with the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech defeating Cheyney University of Pennsylvania 76-62 to claim the first title. In the thirty-seven years that have followed, there have been two times women’s and men’s teams from the same state have won the title in the same year. What makes this statistical nugget more interesting, however, is both instances occurred at the same university.

In 2004, Jim Calhoun won his second national title at the University of Connecticut, leading the Huskies to an 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech. That same year, Geno Auriemma guided the women’s team to a nine-point victory over Pat Summitt‘s Tennessee crew in the championship game. It was Auriemma’s fifth title at UCONN, his fourth in three years, and his third in a row. However, it was only the start of the dominant run for UCONN women’s basketball. Ten years later, Auriemma would secure his ninth title (he currently has eleven) with a victory over Notre Dame. In 2014, the UCONN men also played in the championship game, defeating Kentucky to give Kevin Ollie his first title and the fourth championship for the men’s program at Connecticut.

From left to right, Geno Auriemma, Jim Calhoun, and Kevin Ollie.

If you’re wondering how close other teams have come to accomplishing the in-state victory celebration, both squads from Duke University lost the title games in 1999. In 2011, the Fighting Irish women’s basketball team of Notre Dame secured the championship, while the men of Butler University lost to Jim Calhoun and UCONN. Notre Dame and Butler are both in Indiana. Two years later, as Rick Pitino‘s Louisville Cardinals cut down the nets in victory, Jeff Walz‘s Louisville women’s squad fell short to Auriemma’s Lady Huskies in the championship game.

Tonight, UVA is a 1.5 point favorite over Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders are playing like a proverbial team of destiny, and the Cavaliers have needed blunders on the part of their previous two opponents – Purdue and Auburn – to eke out victories and advance to the championship game. For Tech coach Chris Beard, he’s planning to ensure Kim Mulkey is not alone in celebrating in the Lone Star state.

Texas Tech’s Chris Beard. Photo via Yahoo Sports

Not a Slam Dunk

Today we were in another sugar cane village. What set this one apart was that it had a park area, complete with a basketball court. Almost immediately we broke out into a game of 4 on 4 half-court with the kids from the village. I learned two things today: 1) Playing basketball in a leather fedora is never a good idea, and 2) My pastor has no problem rejecting a layup from a girl who measures five foot nothing.

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The basketball and the crafts and the finger nail painting and the many other activities we shared with the girls and boys of the village was our way of bring an interlude of joy and happiness into the lives of children who have next to nothing in their day to day. In an existence where running water is a luxury, babies meander in the road with no clothes, and girls are cast off as second class citizens, it was fulfilling to be able to deliver smiles and a certain sense of wonderment to those children.

Still, our mission was quite clear; to do our part to ensure eternity for those little souls. And it starts with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. It starts with literally reaching out to each and every child and inviting them to the house of God to hear someone’s testimony. It involves taking the time to share our stories and evangelize to others the grace God has displayed in our lives. Feed them the Word and they will be nourished. Nourish their souls, and they will be saved.

If only it were that easy.

It doesn’t take one time. It doesn’t take two times. It may take the fifth or tenth or fiftieth time for someone to finally hear God calling them and accept Jesus as their Lord and savior. It’s not enough for us to visit that village once, gift them with food, candy, and playtime, and expect them to all become Christ followers. It takes our team, and the team after us, and the team after that. It takes weeks, months, years of ministry. It takes a commitment from the church, the collection of Christians worldwide, to invest time, money, and love to bring the gospel to those who need it.

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And although these people with whom we interacted and shared today have a laundry list of physical needs, there is nothing they need more than Christ.

The analogy I use with my kids is imagine being invited to a party. Not just any party, but the most amazing, fun, insanely awesome party in the history of ever. Now imagine that the people you love and enjoy being with won’t be at the party with you. They have a chance to go, but they either don’t know about the party or simply have no interest in going. Wouldn’t you go to great lengths to tell them about the party? Wouldn’t you do everything you could to convince them to go?

To me, that’s what heaven is. An eternity of joy in paradise, a salvation not because of anything I did (Ephesians 2:9), but rather because I believe, acknowledge, and declare that Jesus died on the cross for me and is my Lord and savior.

It’s a never ending task because there is always one more person to reach and one more soul to lead towards salvation. And as I learned on this trip, it’s not my job to save souls. That is God’s duty. My job, as a follower of Christ, is to play my part in introducing others to the beauty of Jesus Christ, be it here in the Dominican Republic, back home in Tampa, or wherever it is I find myself.

And that is something I can do no problem.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'” -John 14:6

131/365 That’s The Way The Ball Bounces

One of the reasons I’ve always insisted on my kids taking part in organized sports is the life lessons the games and competitions provide. Take tonight as an example. The lesson: No matter how ready you think you are, if you fail to execute properly, you will most likely not succeed. The other lesson: I really stink at coaching.

Daniel’s recreational basketball team fell in the first round of the league’s playoffs tonight, and part of it was because my kids were significantly out-coached. Yes, we had our opportunities and the other team significantly rose to the occasion, but the crux of why we lost was because the opposing coach had developed a great scheme on offense, it caught us by surprise, and I didn’t do a good job in having my kids adjust.

It was a heart-breaking, two point loss, but one that will serve, in the long term, as one of those character-building memories for the boys on the team (I hope). I guess there’s always next year.

038/365 Sick Ball Skillz

Danny’s recreational basketball season is about to kick off, which means that I, as his coach, will be struggling to resolve scheduling conflicts (Natalie’s soccer program is still in season), will be losing my voice weekly, and will be tapping into my tequila collection on a regular basis.

Tonight, however, I was just a dad taking his kid to a basketball clinic put on by the St. Leo University men’s basketball program. Lots of good, instructional drills for the kids to do, including this one of holding your shot follow through.

Wishful Thinking

Perhaps it’s the unavoidable need to entertain the pessimistic voice in my head. Perhaps it’s the Friday morning hangover following the single-most celebrated free agency acquisition in the history of the NBA. Perhaps it was the 5 pints of beer I consumed while feverishly watching ‘The Decision’ on ESPN. Whatever the reason, I find myself hurling back to earth following the high of LeBron James deciding to play for the Miami Heat.

I am a Heat fan. I am a fan of all teams from South Florida. Although I reside in Tampa (Go Rays), my sports heart will always be tied to the 3-0-5 and the franchises that call Miami home.

The euphoria with which the news of LeBron James’ decision was received in South Florida is understandable. The idea of a super-trio of basketball stars sharing the court at the American Airlines Arena, three friends, all Olympic gold medalists, paving the road toward more championship hardware. It is Miami’s own dream team. The question, however, is simple. Can Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh avoid the slippery slope that can quickly devolve this dream scenario into a nightmare for Pat Riley?

This has nothing to do with ego. What these three professional athletes have done is unprecedented. They have left money on the table – millions of dollars in salary – for the opportunity to win championships. Not just one title. Multiple titles. And that is where the intricate planning of Pat Riley, a plan he set in motion over two years ago, can all come unraveled.

From here on forward, the expectations are simply ridiculous. Anything short of an NBA title will be viewed as a failure. Anything short of multiple titles will be viewed as a failure. There’s no argument these three players, all of whom are in their prime, are capable of delivering two or maybe three NBA championships to South Florida. Still, what happens if they don’t?

The situation staring the Miami Three in the face is akin to the joke by comedian Eddie Izzard: Cake or death? There is no middle ground. There is no acceptable level of accomplishment that does not culminate with obtaining a ring. LeBron has reached the NBA Finals on his own. Chris Bosh has experience early playoff exits in Toronto. Yes, Wade has a ring, but it’s a title marred in some circles by the questionable officiating of the 2006 finals and the ‘Stern hates Cuban’ conspiracy theorists.

In a culture where winning is everything, Pat Riley and his Heat are in a no-win situation. If they deliver one title, it will be celebrated but diminished by the expectation of the ones still to come. If they don’t win titles at all, then this will all be regarded as a colossal failure and the media backlash will be more insufferable than it already is. Their only option is to win a slew of titles over the next five years. Only then will everyone be able to look back on this Heat team with positive praise.

Compounding the problem is the fact Miami invented the concept of ‘fair-weather’ fans. With all due respect to the handful of loyalists that are at every game, Miami is a city driven by trends and what’s hot. Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson may very well go on to win the NL Cy Young award this year, but no one will hear about it because for the next eight months there will be no topic hotter than the Heat. Even the Dolphins will take a backseat to the NBA this fall, with only an improbable Super Bowl run being the one thing that would avert our attention from the Heat’s Triple Threat.

Miami fans are analogous to the guy at the bar buying drinks for the hot girl only to leave her standing all alone so as to pursue the other hot girl that just walked in. Can you say 1996 Florida Panthers? We’re fickle. We’re impatient. We want to be seen courtside, but we attend games only when it’s convenient to us, and only if the team is winning. Yet this is what we wanted. This is what we hoped for. We wanted to be the landing spot for the most coveted free agents in the league. We wanted to be the center of the NBA universe. Now that we’re there, let’s just hope the old adage isn’t true. Be careful what you wish for.