“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
Like Kasandra, Madison has lived and breathed basketball. The two have been inseparable here. Madison leaves behind a legacy as being clutch (5 3’s vs. Old Quarry, Playoff OT FT’s), being the best pure shooter I’ve ever coached, and one of my most loyal players and teammates. But most importantly, she’s learned that failure is not permanent. Failure provides opportunity to learn. Missed shots provide an opportunity for an offensive rebound, or another defensive stop. Losses provide reflection on where we’re at in our development.
We all start somewhere. Madison and her friends started as 5th graders, and they varied in skill. After I ran them through their first practice, I wrote “best first practice, ever?” The girls had something, a spark, in them… we all saw it. The challenge was stoking the fire so until it raged uncontrollably. Tonight we play for a conference championship, fire’s blazing in their bellies. And that fire began in a gym 4 years ago. It was stoked over those years in Lemont’s fieldhouse, Neuqua Valley’s gym, in a sweatbox at Providence, in our gym during the summer, at dozens of camps and clinics… and a phone call threw kerosene on it…
Last year we lost a game at Eisenhower. After a series of frustrating losses and events, this was the low point for us. In the wake of several successful seasons, we had hit a point where some of us had expected success. We hadn’t done the things we needed to do to be successful, and just didn’t “want it,\” . We had officially become the antithesis of what we always had been.
An hour after that loss, I received a voicemail from Madison. She apologized. For not playing with passion, and for not doing everything necessary to be successful. For not leading. This was silly, of course, because as a 7th grader on the 8th grade team, perfection was not expected. But regardless, a player recognized frustration, and apologized. She learned. And in doing so, Madison exemplified another layer of Spartan Basketball.
Madison played her best basketball of the season after that phone call. Made mistakes, but played with passion again. Dove for loose balls. Hit a game-winning 3 in transition, off a steal, to win a game at Burr Ridge. Made some gorgeous passes. She learned. And got better. She spent time in the last year improving her defense, getting it to a point where it’s nearly on par with her shooting. She even took 3 charges in one game on the road last week.
Accountability. Pride. It’s remarkable what basketball does for people. How this family comes together. How we mature through it. How it shapes us. I’m so fortunate to walk these girls into a Championship game tonight. Forget skill – what other coach has a family like this willing to help each other achieve their dreams? Who else gets to coach girls that have such a passion for the game? For each other?
I’m not sure a lot of people outside “my family” really understand what we do here. This has never been about winning. Winning is great, I love it. But it’s about the girls, about fostering a love for basketball inside them, and giving them the confidence and fearlessness to assault any obstacle. Of course it’s a ridiculously altruistic goal. But girls believe, girls trust, and they commit. We struggle through all the developmental seasons, yet we grow our passion. Our dreams get bigger. As a result, we become very good at basketball. My “basketball family” – the network of players, coaches, and usually parents involved with what we do – sees that, and knows first hand what the power of a team can do. My girls get what we do. My girls get me. A pretty cool bond is forged, and Madison is a perfect example of that. So are the dozens of emails, tweets, and texts from former players and parents (not to mention the ones that come to games!).
Madison is responsible for shaping us all. She’s set a tone by staying in the gym until 5:40 the last 2 weeks, over Christmas Break, and whenever. Enthusiasm is contagious, and this kid is so sick with basketball, her teammates have become just like her and Kasandra. This enthusiasm has helped us learn so much as we’ve made mistakes. Losses have been fuel on the fire. We’ve all become obsessed with one goal, as a family.
Champions? We already are.