Congrats to the Villanova Wildcats on their second NCAA Championship in three years! What an amazing achievement.
But, as impressive as their win over Michigan was in the title game, it was while watching the Wildcats play the Kansas Jayhawks in the semi-finals on Saturday night that I saw something truly extraordinary. With seven minutes to go, the Wildcats were up 17 points and Villanova guard Jalen Brunson streaked up the court when he was fouled by a Kansas player. The foul was nothing out of the ordinary, but Brunson lost his balance and tumbled head first to the sideline and ended up face down out of bounds.
As if coming from every corner of the court, all four of Brunson’s teammates ran at top speed to go pick him up. It was incredible to watch...so incredible that I actually rewound the action and watched it again three times! So many teams grow complacent while experiencing success, but the Wildcats (remember, they were AHEAD by 17 at this point!) were still scrambling to pick each other up. Villanova swept through this year’s men’s tournament, winning every game by double digits, yet they were always hustling to help their teammate.
I’m a huge fan of trash talking, gamesmanship, and head games. If you’ve ever played basketball with me, you know just how much I love trying to get inside someone’s head, seeing if they can beat me mentally as well as physically. Over the years, I’ve learned that true competitors have a truckload of mental strength and the ability to both give and take a little verbal jousting.
That’s why I loved the trash talking at this year’s Masters.
Whether or not you’re a golf fan, you have to appreciate the gamesmanship that goes into the sport’s biggest competitions. Maybe it’s not as openly shared as the trash talking on the basketball court or football field, but pro golfers are masters of getting into their opponent’s heads (and sometimes getting into their own!). Playing golf at this level requires enormous physical talent, but if your head’s not in the game you don’t have a chance.
This is something veteran golfer Rory McIlroy knows well.
Forget the big name schools who will be there, the most talked about team in this weekend’s NCAA Tournament Final Four has to be the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. From clutch wins to the storyline of two players who have been teammates since third grade to the legend of their beloved 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt (she’s even getting her own bobblehead doll!!), the media just can’t get enough of the fourth 11th-seeded team to make the Final Four. And rightly so. The Ramblers are an incredible story.
But the figure in the story that hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves is Loyola coach Porter Moser. Since 2011 when he took over as coach, he’s affected a culture change throughout the organization that has led to the Rambler’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1985. It was evident from the first time I watched this team in November through last weekend that Moser loves his players and that he’s taught them to love and trust each other.
As I’ve looked at this team, two things stand out most about Coach Moser and the Ramblers.
In a world of sameness, where most of us are told what it should “look like” to be successful in our space, the NFL Scouting Combine stands out as perhaps the world’s most predictable job interview. One the one hand, draft prospects are told to stand out, to make an impression, but what teams really want is another player that fits their ideal mold for certain positions. That’s why we should all be rooting for Shaquem Griffin.
Griffin is well decorated: a two-time first-team All-American Athletic Conference linebacker, AAC Defensive Player of the Year, National Champion, and Peach Bowl MVP.
And he did all of it without a left hand.