Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lessons in dreaming from the Kentucky Wildcats

I've been a Kentucky fan longer than I can remember. That picture above is 16-month-old me.

But, admittedly, I've especially been enjoying this team the past few weeks. Yes, it's late in the basketball season. The Wildcats are one of the Final Four teams and here I am rooting for them in a new way because they've taught me some lessons about the dreams I have in life.

With all this one-and-done business, it's hard to learn the players' stories. And, yes, the stories are what I love about sports. But this team's story has won me over in a new way and reminded those dreams are worth pursuing.

Five freshman start. It's like Coach John Calipari has a new team every year as many of his players go on to the NBA before they turn 20 years old. As a fan, that's hard to keep up with sometimes. But, now, it's April and the 2013-14 University of Kentucky Wildcats have me.

This NCAA Tournament run has been amazing. An eight seed, the Cats beat ninth-seeded Kansas State, top-seeded Witchita State that hadn't lost a game all season, fourth-seeded Louisville that happens to be the defending champion, and second-seeded Michigan to get where they are. They ended the regular season with a losing streak and hobbled their way in the SEC Tournament, where they ended up fighting until the end.

I knew this team was growing on me when it lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. So much so I had them beating Louisville in my bracket. Yes, it was wishful thinking. My dreams have nothing to do with basketball championships, but this team and its will to win taught me a few things.

Just listen to this quote from UK Coach John Calipari after his team beat Michigan on Sunday to head to the Final Four this coming weekend:

"They were trying. Loving the grind, learning to work, becoming self disciplined. Counting on one another, being their brother’s keeper, all that stuff. Losing themselves in the team.

It’s hard when all seven of them scored 28 a game in high school to give up something and then you’re looking at the other guy, and when they all just settled in and lost themselves in the team, the game became easier. They became better. They had more fun. They became more confident. And all of a sudden this is what you have.

But it took us four months."
{UK Coach John Calipari}

Most of us don't call our people a team. We usually refer to our family or friends. Or maybe your people are your community or even tribe. Perhaps you have a more organized moms group or Bible study. You have co-workers and neighbors.

These people really are like our team in life.

We've all had personal successes and failures. That's part of what we bring to the tables we gather around. We count on each other. We lose some of ourselves when we're part of a team and that makes us better version of ourselves.

But these relationships take time. It took this young team dominated by freshman several months to bond together in a way that made them stronger. When they got to that point, they've found success. It's true that we really are better when we're together. And we won't get better instantly or without the investment into each other's lives.

I listened to UK's press conference after the game on Sunday and I've read through the transcript more than once. It's packed with other lessons:

Believe in your story before it's over. After UK lost to South Carolina, which had a losing record, earlier this season, Aaron Harrison said his team was going to have a great story everyone would be talking about. Coming off a loss, he still knew what team was capable of more and he knew the players would need each other: "I just felt that even though we lost that game we came together in that game. We became stronger in that game because we knew that everyone else on the outside wouldn't be on our side after taking a loss to a team like that. I knew we just had to come together. If we came together we could do some things." Likewise, when God gives you a dream, know there will be losses, but there will be more to the story.

Stay in the moment. UK could have looked past Kansas State and started thinking about handing Witchita State its first lost or facing its rival Louisville again. But that would have distracted the players from what they needed to do in the first game. Take your dreams one step at a time.

Be ready when your time comes. Sometimes dreams have to wait. Marcus Lee got sick earlier this season and hasn't played much since. And then he was one of the stars of Sunday's game. His coach called on him and he was ready. He wasn't even mad that he had to wait for his name to be called: "Spending this time with my family and my brothers is not challenging at all. Once you see that glare in your brother’s eyes when they’re playing hard and winning games, you can’t be mad about it at all." Our time often isn't God's time, but hang in there because the best time is coming.

Stay the course. There will be criticism and doubters and hurdles, but focus on continuing to develop. Life is a process.

Make decisions that help the people around you. Aaron Harrison knew he needed to take the shot. Sure, he could have missed, but he wasn't worried about that and took it anyway. It turned out to be the game-winning shot. Listen to what he said afterward: "I knew I had to take the shot. I wasn't really sure how much time was left. But I knew that it wasn't that much time, so I just tried to take the best shot I could take. And it fell. And in making that shot and seeing my teammates so happy and running toward me, it’s the best feeling in the world."

All of these quotes were taken from UK's post-game press conference following its win over Michigan on Sunday, March 30. You can read the entire transcript here

I'm joining Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, other God-sized Dreamers, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory with this post. 

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  1. Sweet surprise to see your post on the Wildcats as they've always held a special place in my heart! Thanks, Kristin :)

  2. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 9:57 AM

    How fun - have you lived in Kentucky?

  3. "Likewise, when God gives you a dream, know there will be losses, but there will be more to the story." <-So true. It's neat the lessons that can be found in the most unexpected of places!

  4. Lots of good nuggets from that press conference I'd say. I love the thought of referring to those close to us as our team. I've often heard the phrase..."These are my people." But also like "This is my team." Makes me think of all my fabulous blogging friends (like you!!). When I post on Facebook you are all my biggest supports...my team!! I just adore all of you. God is GOOD! Thanks for sharing, Kristin.

  5. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 10:15 AM

    Team is something most of us understand from either playing or watching sports, so I think it's a neat way to think about our community of people. So glad you're on my team, Beth!

  6. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 10:16 AM

    I couldn't stop thinking about God-sized dreams while I watched the press conference. Such good reminders for me, so I'm glad you appreciated it too. Thanks for coming by, Alecia!

  7. No, never lived there. But knew a guy once who was from Corbin.

  8. All of those principles are wonderful and could definitley be correlated with a Bible verse. Love it! It is a very unique and inspiring take!

  9. Kristin-
    You made me want to become a basketball fan. I love this post. What a great reminder of the team. The points were just so well written.. makes me want to keep dreaming. What a gift your words are.

  10. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 1:11 PM

    You're so sweet, Jenn. And, hey, we'll welcome you on the basketball bandwagon at any time. :)

  11. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 1:12 PM

    I was thinking of several of my favorite bible verses as I heard the press conference. Thanks for coming by here and commenting!

  12. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 1:14 PM

    God really can use anything to teach us, can't he?! Yeah, I'm certainly not going to win our bracket pool, but it's fun to still be cheering for Kentucky. I'd like to see a rematch with Florida (Hooray, SEC!) ... Kentucky was SO CLOSE to beating them before and I'm not sure Florida would beat Kentucky for a FOURTH time this season. But ... semi-final games first. See, there I go, looking ahead. :) Thanks for your comment, Lisa!

  13. KristinHillTaylor4/02/2014 1:14 PM

    Ah, Corbin is on the other side of the state from me!