Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basketball Is Just A Game, Life Isn't

I am lucky enough to have a father that will do anything at the drop of a hat and give me advice when I need it most.

No subject is off the table.  Job, women, sports.  It's all in play.

The one lesson he has preached now for 26 years that I have yet to embrace is the idea that sports are "only just a game."

When the Lions got robbed in Chicago during Week One, I immediately called him enraged that Calvin's catch wasn't.  I wasn't in front of a mirror at the time, but I image I had that crazed Mel Gibson look and sound going.

He, also a die hard Lions fan, calmly said "Don't let it ruin your day, it's only just a game."

Huh?  Come on man, give me some emotion.  Let loose a bit. Get fired up.

None of those requests were granted.  He was level headed and went about his business.  He didn't let the loss, and wouldn't have let the win (if it had happened) change his outlook.

He put his fatherly, jedi-mind tricks to work and was again teaching a lesson in patience and poise.

It must be generational, because the Michigan State basketball team is going through a similar life-lesson.

Korie Lucious' dismissal from the squad might seem like another set back for a team already labeled as the biggest disappointment of the season, but I think it should be praised.

Tom Izzo is not a calm man on the sideline.  He looks like a leprechaun on 'roids when the Spartans fail to box out or turn the ball over.  Off the court, there may not be a more level-headed coach.

In fact, he's probably a better teacher than an actual coach, which makes him so effective.

Izzo knows by giving Lucious the boot, he is hurting his team's chances at turning the season around.  Lucious is a good player even if he does give balls away more frequently then Wilt Chamberlain in a brothel.

Sparty isn't going to win the Big Ten regular season crown, the conference tournament is always a letdown, and the consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament seems in jeopardy.  Not having Lucious only makes these goals even more unattainable.

But, in an era of college basketball when player-coach relationships are less long term and more one season stands, it's refreshing to see Tom Izzo part ways with one of his best players for the right reason.

Izzo is putting winning aside in an effort to prove it's more important to be a better man than a better player.

It's a lesson I wish more coaches would teach.  Instead, we see coaches praise these 18-year-olds from the minute they step on campus.  They know the better these players play, the more they get paid.

Win a conference tournament, bonus.  Sweet 16, bonus.  Final Four, summer home bought and paid for.

None of this happens without your blue chip athlete playing well, and they will play well when they are happy, so why not tell them they are the second coming ofMJ.

It's all about winning.

Izzo takes that approach and slaps it in the face.  He is the highest paid employee at a Big Ten college, which claims that education is its number one priority.  Well, cheers to you Tom, because unlike most coaches, he truly does put education first.

He dismissed Chris Allen because Allen was a problem.  How many other coaches would have gotten rid of their best perimeter defender in a league with guys like Talor Battle and E'Twaun Moore...I'll wait?

Earlier in the season, he benched his best scorer during critical moments of a game his team needed to win because Durrell Summers wasn't giving his best effort.  Can you honestly see John Calipari sitting anyone, at any point, who averages at least 10-points a game?  I can't.

Izzo is teaching Lucious and all Spartans lessons in being men.

Will it lead to more wins? Nope.  Will it help recruit more guys that want to go one-and-done to the NBA? Nope.  But, it sets a standard of maturity, accountability, and excellence. One Michigan State fans everywhere should be proud their coach stands for above all else.

Because in the end basketball is just a game, but life is to be taken seriously.

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