Playing The Game (of Life) Without Limits – The Villanova Story
“The biggest word we use in this program is attitude.” -Daniel Ochefu, #23 for Villanova the 2016 National Champions in men’s college basketball.
Whether you’re a fan of college basketball of not, you’ll find the story of the Villanova Wildcats inspiring. After 31 years, a selfless group of humble yet talented young men brought the NCAA men’s basketball championship back to Villanova University.
What inspires me about this team is not only that they won but how and why they won and the overall level of joyfulness and fun they brought to the experience (for their fans especially).
- They won by being selfless. The game winning, buzzer beating shot that won the national championship game for Villanova was the result of a selfless pass. Ryan Arcidiacano passed the ball to Kris Jenkins who buried the game winning three-point shot. Here’s the thing – Ryan is a very talented three-point shooter himself and a senior playing his last game for Villanova. Ryan bleeds blue and white. Both his parents attended Villanova and he grew up in the university’s backyard. Ryan could have easily made this about himself and taken the shot but he didn’t. He was well defended by the North Carolina Tarheels in those final moments. And Ryan being the team player that he is, made the pass to Jenkins. Other 18-20 somethings might have chosen the glory but as I’ve heard Ryan quoted as saying, “I don’t care how many points I get, I just want this team to win.” Sharing the ball cinched a Villanova victory and not just in the championship game. Having watched this team play in the Big East and the NCAA tournaments, I can tell you everyone made selfless choices to help this team win at various points.
- This was business and it was personal. “This is a business trip” – that’s how the team viewed the Final Four. They had business to finish. For as well as the Wildcats played throughout the NCAA tournament beating top 5 team after top 5 team, many still picked North Carolina to win the championship. So the Villanova team had it on their shoulders to prove the analysts wrong. But it was also personal. Kris Jenkins aka “Big Smooth” had an adoptive brother on the Tarheels who had been telling reporters he would never let Kris live it down if he lost the game. When the seconds were ticking down on the clock and Villanova had to make a basket to win, I saw it was Kris Jenkins taking the shot at the buzzer. I knew he would do all he could to make that shot and prove his brother wrong. As motivating as it is to want to win a championship, it’s even more motivating to show those who underestimate us just what we’re capable of.
- Joyfulness and fun – Smiles, encouragement, hugs – that’s how I saw this team responding to ups and downs throughout the tournament. Never did I see them angry with one another even when mistakes were made. Even Coach Wright kept his cool and never appeared frustrated with his team. The #NovaNation of fans (at least the ones I follow) were very supportive of the team in their Facebook posts, Tweets, and LinkedIn messages. The message of love and support came from the top at Villanova University too. One of my favorite images after the Final Four win to put the Wildcats in the championship was of University President Father Peter Donahue giving Ryan Arcidiacano a hug. It was like his own son had won the game. Having met Father Peter I have no doubt he was a very positive force behind this team in addition to Coach Wright and the staff.
When asked about what made this team special, Kris Jenkins said, “We accept coaching.” Considering that the Wildcats Coach Jay Wright won the Naismith Coach of the Year award several times including this year, I can appreciate that. The success I’ve seen in my own coaching clients, is incredible. I’m sure Jay Wright feels that way about this team.
We can all play without limits and achieve incredible results whatever field we are in. Make attitude your focus. Work selflessly to help others/the organization be a success. Enjoy the experience, make it fun and you’ll create your own inspiring success story.
(Championship photos courtesy of my favorite fellow Villanova alum Craig Zabransky who attended the game.)