Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nothing Ordinary

Especially by Tim Cowie
Men's Basketball at Samford


I am not a writer.

Unlike Biggers and Kruse, who somehow make words flow like water rolling over stones in a quiet forest stream on a fall day, I write with the prose of a hot, humid August afternoon.

What I know is what I see. This week, my eyes had the privilege to see behind the scenes of our men’s basketball program.

There is no ordinary week in a college basketball season.

Unless you consider “ordinary” being – class, practice, play, class, practice, fly, play, class, practice, fly, play and practice again, only to start another week. If that’s ordinary, so be it, but what I can tell you, there is nothing “ordinary” about our men’s team, the staff, and the journey that they lead.

What tidbit of information can I give you about their journey? What inside scoop is there to be had? What really goes on behind the scenes that make our team so special and different than the rest? Why do we win 41 consecutive SoCon games, have a record of 18-3 and are the nation’s basketball darlings?

It’s simple really. In the minds of the players and coaching staff, we are simply trying to win the next basketball game. Practice prior to the Samford departure is as it always is – focused on details.

Defense. I don’t know if Bob speaks the often said cliché – “defense wins championships,” but it’s inherent in what they do. Ask Landry Kosmalski this week if he believes that and how that affects results. Details.

Flight. Don’t know if you realize this, but UT-Chattanooga and Samford are not easy road trips on any day. Certainly not easy on a Wednesday and a Saturday of the same week. A bus trip twice in one week, let alone a commercial flight would have meant long days and more importantly, extended missed class time. A faithful alum made this week possible. Two charter flights, well-rested team, two wins.

Jealous? I understood the question. I understood why it was mentioned.

What I didn’t see is extravagance.

I saw take-out from the Soda Shop, normal pre-game meals, vans to the airport driven by staff, a plane that was a far cry from the luxury private jets we hear auto and bank execs take for weekend jaunts, a bus with missing overhead storage doors (albeit a driver that just graduated from NASCAR school), post game showers in another building and pizza while on the bus going back to the airport.

I mention this not to make you think the team isn’t grateful. Important – extremely. Extravagant – hardly. Thankful – most certainly. Jealous – are you crazy?

The “Shot.” All of us had expectations of how the Samford game should play out. We just witnessed in one fashion or another a great road win over a team that all of us fear (all meaning – everyone but the team), on their home court, 9,000 plus fans, with of course, the exclamation point for the night being the “Shot.”

Samford, on the other hand, is another game and for the team, another milepost on the season’s highway. There are no thoughts of the journey traveled. They are focused on the next milepost. They don’t look into the dark distance, straining to see what can’t be seen. There are no forks in the road, only the next milepost.

Trust. Oh, we all know Trust, Care, Commitment by now. I saw trust in other forms this weekend. The trust that Bob has within his staff. Today, Coach Fox confidently broke down the scouting report. By the way, for all of you message board naysayer’s, Coach Fox had it down pat. I’m not going to divulge the details, as that would betray the opportunity that was bestowed upon me.

I will say, that while sitting in a sold out Hanna arena, this school, nestled quietly in a valley at the tail of the Appalachians, searched for something within to make the “Magic City” proud. As the game unfolded, I sense an extreme case of deja vous, reminded of Fox’s pearls of wisdom.

Trust. The team trusts the staff to guide them through good games and bad. Outside of a few dressed in Davidson red, 5,200 white clad fans don’t understand what “trust” means to our players and our program. To look in our player’s eyes, you don’t see fear. Was today a banner day? No, far from it. Did we shoot well, execute offensively, jump in the path of the cutter, for that matter, heed the words of Coach Fox? No.

As fans finished rolling their remotes searching for SportsSouth, fought with Teamline to hear John Kilgo (anxiously waiting to see how long it took to hear about dogs and a balancing bowl lady) or furiously typing 26 pages on the message board, the likes of “Stan” and others found ways to worry about an impending loss.

Yes, there were some “home run” passes, defensive lapses, mistimed shots, and a bad foul or two. Never, was their fear or doubt from those that allowed me to join them on this journey. A quiet confidence, gained from hours of attention to detail. A trust that can’t be imposed, purchased or transferred, but gained only through total commitment. A commitment that started 20 years ago.

So while others were wringing their hands, writing thread upon thread or screaming at their computer or TV about why Steve passed the ball behind his back, Steph made the "home run" pass or Andrew didn’t finish a power move, I sat quietly in the stands. I sensed with the rest of the team, the confidence that Andrew would get the next rebound or Steve would quietly slip from the high post to deliver two points off of a perfectly delivered “single” by Steph. I sat there confidently expecting Bryant to make two free throws. Feel free to write about 50 percent free throw shooting statistics, but with this team it wasn’t Bryant at the line, it was his entire team. For that matter, it wasn’t Steph that made the “Shot” earlier in the week; it was the defensive stop, the Andrew rebound and Bryant running out on the break. Details.

We can talk about the five security guards on the bus to help the guys get from the locker room, the throngs of waiting children and the adults that pretended that they were there only for their children, but ultimately it was just about another milepost.

The plane lands, the vans fill, and “Killer” is off to Shady Acres. The quiet drive back to campus leads one to think only of the next milepost to be reached on Monday. There is no straining into the darkness. Leave it to others to think of the Coliseum up the road in the “Gate City” or how to “black out” an arena for the likes of Vitale and Patrick.

I am confident that this team moves forward, not trying to live with Elite 8 expectations or how to replace the likes of Thomas, Boris and Jason.

They move forward knowing they were better than they were at the beginning of January, confident that with hard work and commitment, they will be better at the beginning of March.

They move forward with only one milepost in their midst.

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