Leading Role Players

In the conversation around leadership, it couldn’t be more timely than to include Kevin Ollie, head coach of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies. What an 18-months, what a season, what a March, what a story. And when you take time to dig a little deeper, what a story of years of hard work, years of giving, years of teaching, and profound love.

Last night, before the big game, I wanted to see what Wikipedia had to say about Coach Ollie. This paragraph pretty much says it all:

NBA player Kevin Durant in an interview with Grantland said that Kevin Ollie (who played for Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009-2010) “taught him the ropes”, and “changed the culture of Oklahoma City”. He also said, “Kevin Ollie, he was a game changer for us. I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City. Just his mind set, professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, and we all wanted to be like that. It rubbed off on Russell Westbrook, myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And then everybody who comes through now, it’s the standard that you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And it all started with Kevin Ollie.”

I got to thinking about other Kevin-like players in the NBA who do not boast impressive stats, but add something far more valuable, something that cannot be added up in the box score.

Who are the Kevin Ollie characters in our lives or who could be in our lives? Who are the people around us who have something incredible to offer, who lead by example and inspire those they serve? What platform can we provide for them to shine even more brightly?

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If you have some time, read these three articles about Coach Ollie. I found the way the article Kevin Ollie: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know breaks down playing on 13 teams in 12 NBA seasons (team and salary) was especially interesting.

Last, it’s hard not to be inspired by Coach Ollie in this 18 minute talk that came from the 5 Fast Facts article above.

Change the Conversation

UConn and St. Joe’s was the first game I saw this March Madness. It was love at first sight.

In my first March Madness since college, I’ve loved the games, I’ve loved the commercials, I’ve loved the commentary. But the very best? The seasoned teams, the ones with seniors who have stayed the course. And the marination of anticipation over the years – of playing through March and being the only team to finish the season with a win.

As the Wisconsin/Kentucky game got going on Saturday night, my Dad and I got into a conversation about one and done. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a phrase that has become connected to John Calipari and the University of Kentucky program, a team that starts five talented Freshman. One and done refers to those student-athletes who come to school for a year before they choose to leave school in favor of the NBA. Calipari will have had 20 such players on his team in the five years by the close of this year’s NBA draft (he has 17 to date).

Both of us were rooting for Wisconsin, a team with some season. But when I Google’ed one and done, I came across this article that is very much worth a read.

As a college basketball fan, I don’t want to see great players leave so quickly. Heck, in my college basketball watching heyday, I didn’t want to see the seniors go. But why is the choice for college basketball players, whether they stay or they go, come under more scrutiny than anyone else with a chance, a choice to pursue an opportunity that might change their life and the lives of their families?

As much as I wish my writing tonight was all about UConn and how great Kevin Ollie is as a coach, I really like what Coach Calipari has done as a leader – and how he’s attempting to change a conversation.

One a done leaves a bad taste in peoples mouth. But succeed and proceed, not only does it have a nice ring, it gets closer to the core of what’s behind these shortened sojourns at the college level for these ball players.

The article paints Calipari as a great recruiter, a great coach, and a great teacher. I agree with the idea that to proceed one must succeed. To continue on to the next level, one must have achieved.

But the part I love even more is that Calipari’s players support the idea that he makes no promises to them. That his attitude and coaching style invites them to grow up – and they have the choice to step up to that challenge.

Basketball, in some ways is just a game. But in other ways it’s a platform for learning transformative lessons. Of dedication and hard work. Focus and concentration. Sharing and teamwork. Looking out for others. And more.

Who are we to judge when someone has learned the lesson? And whether or not they should have the opportunity to pursue a dream to ‘play’ at the next level?

In an age where we say yes to kid entrepreneurs, how are these basketball players any different?

Coach Calipari, I’m not rooting for your team tonight, but I do have a little extra respect and appreciation for your craft and your coaching style. Thank you for helping me to think a little bit differently about this conversation.

Take Your Shot

Before this year’s edition of March Madness, the last time I watched this much basketball was sometime close to the turn of the millennium. College basketball has its reputation for bringing out more emotion than the average sporting event. The emotion and the energy of it all is incredible – and I’ve loved every minute of it.

I knew I’d love the games, and likely be moved by the games going down to the wire with teams with incredible chemistry and seniors out there trying to fulfill their collegiate basketball dreams.

But I did not expect to be moved by commentary about players on the court that is equally applicable to many of us athletes in the game of life.

The comment I took away today was about a player who was no longer just taking shots, he was taking shots that were right for him. It’s not just about making shots, but about taking shots one is capable of making. And what a difference that made in the way he played the game – his game.

What shots are you just taking? And what shots are you meant to make? What’s your shot? What’s your game?