Monday, March 28, 2011

4 Stories from the Final 4 - Part 1

My wife is elated because there is a mere 3 games left in College Basketball season. (she fails to remember that the NBA playoffs are 2 months long). I always tell her that the game is more than sweaty dudes bumping into each other....every team has a story. So in the week leading up to The Final Four, DFTR will look at 4 stories from those competing this weekend. Forward the stories to your wives, they may be more sympathetic to your cause.

I can roll up on any Basketball court in my town and ask the shorties if they have heard of Dr. James Naismith. Odds are they have not. Basketball has evolved as a super show of athletic grace. The fundamentals and tradition are often left to play second fiddle to the awesome power and expertise of the men and women who have spent their lives practicing for their 'one shining moment'.

In 2011, we have digressed (or progressed). Shaka Smart and and the Virginia Commonwealth University squad have executed basketball in it's most fundamental form. Coach Smart spends every minute of the game on his feet, practically on the court with his players; calling offensive sets and preparing the defense. His players are smaller and less skilled but his system is consistent and reliable.

In a recent UPS commercial Geno Auriemma compares the game of basketball to shipping logistics. Five players moving in separate directions (and a ball moving in another). Coach Auriemma's contention is that we only cheer when the ball goes into the basket. We miss the logistics of what gets the players up the court, the players into position, and the ball up in the air.

Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams wear their logistics are their sleeve. You can see the game taking shape. The team plays together for the purpose of getting the ball in the basket. They Stick to the system, knowing it will produce points. The discipline is hyper-focused. Their bigger, faster, stronger opponents have moments of running them over in a charge to the basket. Over the course of the game, the system wins.

We all love a Cinderella story. There has never been a play-in 11 seed in the Final Four. This is truly the David to any Goliath.

Where the system has helped VCU best the uber-athletic Georgetown and Kansas, they now face the fundamentally sound Butler Bulldogs. Can the system prevail?

No One knew who Shaka Smart was 3 weeks ago. But, you would not know that from the way he has purported himself and his team. He is energetic on the floor, articulate in his interviews, a sharp dresser, and an impassioned leader. You would assume that he has been there before....which is why he is there.

VCU could have taken enough pride in getting their small school into the tournament. They could have marveled at the bright lights and enjoyed a few head turns in tournament town. They chose, however, to cease the opportunity. Knowing this might be a one shot deal, they defied the statistics and relied on the logistics.

Coach Smart came at every team they played with a self-assurance. This is how great things are done in defiance of convention. To practice well, play hard, and find a differentiator. That, and to know no better than to believe IT CAN BE DONE!

Don't Forget to Remember!


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