On Monday, April 7, 2008, the University of Kansas Men’s basketball team won the third national championship in school history. A team with several experienced players, a very successful head coach and coaching staff saw the victory that had eluded them in the past few years. The team has several potential NBA players on the roster and had high expectations coming into the 2007-2008 season. The last KU team to win the national championship was in 1988 and was headlined by current KU assistant coach, Danny Manning. Year in and year out, expectations are high for the KU basketball team, with dreams of a national championship always involved in preseason discussions.
So, how did this team emerge with a victory in a Final Four that for the first time had all four number one seeds advancing to college basketball’s final weekend? Obviously, all four teams that reached the Final Four have tremendous talent, with several stars destined for the pros. All four coaches have been extremely successful with great resumes and backgrounds. Their coaching styles, recruiting abilities and motivational tactics together with the physical and psychological talents of their players all had roles in reaching the pinnacle of college basketball’s greatest tournament.
KU’s victories over North Carolina and Memphis were emotionally charged and exciting, but why were they able to win and not their opponents? I believe that one of the major differences was their attitude. No matter what the score, whether they were way ahead of North Carolina, or nine points down with two minutes to go against Memphis, the KU players never quit. Yes, KU sprinted out ahead of North Carolina by 28 points in the first half. By the middle of the second half, North Carolina cut the lead to four points, before KU moved way ahead and won by 18. Despite North Carolina’s great comeback, KU never stopped believing in themselves or their team’s ability. I think this starts with the head coach and moves all the way down the roster. The championship game against Memphis was close all the way until the Tigers went ahead by nine. Many teams would have given into the pressure and collapsed, but the KU players kept diving for loose balls attacking the basket and going after rebounds. Mario Chalmers three point basket with just over two seconds to play put the game into overtime, and KU vaulted ahead to victory.
I believe that the lesson we can learn for ourselves, as well as our young athletes is that no matter what, never quit, never give up. If you do, you may not always come away with a win, but you will always be able to walk away holding your head up high. Years ago, Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous speech in Fulton, Missouri about never giving up. As an athlete or coach, instilling that attitude in your mentality will help you become a success on and off the athletic field. Even though, KU won the national championship, all four teams that participated in college basketball’s final weekend were winners as well.