Monday, April 07, 2008


Yes, I'm going to talk basketball but stick with me.

If you've been living in a cave and don't know, the NCAA national basketball tournament has been going on for a couple of weeks. At the end of a grueling regular season and individual conference championships, the top 64 teams in the country are invited to the big dance, the NCAA Tournament, March Madness, a chance at the national title.

I want to talk about focus, elevating our expectations and sticking together. Speaking of elevating, take a look at that tiny picture of Memphis player Derrick Rose (white uniform). Check out where his feet are and that the camera man is not shooting "up" at the blue-uniformed UCLA player.


University of Memphis is back in the championship game (today) for the first time in...well, a really really long time. Our first trip to the national championship game ended with us on the losing side of a legendary Bill Walton lead UCLA team. Last year's bid to make the hallowed Final Four was crushed by UCLA. You see, 64 becomes 32 becomes 16 becomes 8 becomes 4 becomes 2 becomes 1. We'd made it to the round of 8 and faced UCLA. They only have 11 National Championships.

We had a pretty good team last year, but we aren't one of the dynasty teams. We aren't in a star-studded conference. Most of our television time, even when we win, is all about how our conference is weak and that we'll fold like an old card table once the heat is on from "real" teams. Commentors talk about what teams can do to beat us as if doing so is a piece of cake. And yet, despite all these tidy game plans for crushing each of the last three seasons we've had over 30 wins. (That's unbelievably brilliant no matter which conference you're in. The prognosticators barely noticed.)

We've been undefeated in our conference for two years. Conference champ for 3. We've shut out the other teams in our conference tournament two years in a row and won it for 3. We play and beat quality teams on the road every single non-conference game. (We have to. Our conference isn't a strong one yet.) Our cummulative record for the last three years is 98-7.

You have to wonder why the coaches and sports casters would rank us #1 in the country and then talk trash about us. Memphis spent a large part of this year as #1. Not a unanimous decision of the various polls, but we've never been lower than # 3. We've only been beaten once this in state rival University of Tennessee. They were #2 in the country at the time and we were # 1. Interestingly, that was the first time #1 and #2 ranked teams in the country had ever met in the history of NCAA basketball. That was a heckuva game. We lost. Then we went right back to winning.

And still, no respect. Well, maybe a little. Folks did agree we deserved our regional #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the next words printed were predictions that we'd be the first of the highly seeded teams to fall. We weren't expected to go the distance. We didn't belong. We aren't a dynasty. The press has written scathing articles about Coach John Calipari's inability to coach. Didn't matter than he owns or shares more than a few serious NCAA coaching records. Or that his record for the last three years is 98-7. We are the dirty little secret in basketball. The no-pedigree team that would be king.

It's not that I didn't want to post some good pictures of our team, but pictures are a little scarce since there has been so little national coverage of our team.

We marched through the season with almost no fanfare despite the fact we kept piling up wins. For a very long time this year Memphis owned the country's longest undefeated record. The only thing the anchors said was, "Well, their conference schedule is easier than most." Our boys never talked trash, never whined. They just looked ahead and said, "Well, they can say those things but we still have to go play basketball. If we play well enough they'll stop sayin' it." Their coach inspired them to love each other, to play unselfishly and to want each win. It doesn't matter how far ahead they are in the scoring, you will see those boys hit the hardwood floor in a mad scramble to grab every lose ball. They've sometimes clawed their way back to a win after trailing by double figures.

They believed. They carried the city with them. We marched through the tournament. We chewed up and spit out some seriously good teams. We posted huge margins. We played 40 minutes of good ball over and over again. And still the press spent more time on every other team, dismissed Memphis and focused on anyone else with a basketball in their hand because there was no story in Memphis. They were going to lose. Why spend precious page space or air time on them? No one thought all top 4 regional seeds of the tournament would make it to the Final Four. That's never happened in the history of basketball. Except it did. Because we didn't lose like we were supposed to. (Apparently we didn't get the memo.)

When Memphis reached the Final Four and was staring at the promised land of a national championship, who did we have to beat Saturday to get to Monday's championship game? UCLA. Who else? Really, you couldn't write this stuff in a book. They wouldn't believe you.

A slogan draped the bus carrying our tigers to the Final Four game. REFUSE TO LOSE. And they did just that. They dispatched UCLA and won in double digits. In winning this game the Memphis Tigers now own--outright--the record for most NCAA wins EVER in a season--38. That's EVER. Since the history of record keeping in basketball, which is a long long time.

Finally, there is respect. Grudging respect but it's coming. My boys didn't celebrate. They put their heads down and said, "The job's not done."

They've taught me a lot this season. They're just kids, but they bought into a dream. They followed a coach who uplifts them and requires them to be not just better basketball players but better human beings.

Tonight, win or lose, I'm gonna be proud of those boys. And I'm going to remember to put my head down and get the job done. I'm in charge of my dreams. You can be too.


Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Deb. I'm not a B-ball fan, but you have me all stirred up and ready to cheer for Memphis! Refuse to Lose. That's a motto for life, not just sports. . . which is, of course, the point of your post, I'm sure.

It's a lesson most of us could use about now. With the state of publishing and of government and of the economy, a lot of us are feeling tentative and uncertain-- even gloomy-- about the future. But so much of it is in our own hands. We have the power within us to be good, to be inspiring, to make a difference. . . if we work together as people, as writers, as Americans.

The job's not done. Yeah, I can see that. so I'm going to put my head down and keep writing and keep caring. And when I look up again. . . maybe we'll all be in a better place!


Moira Reid said...

Not a basketball fan either...but I can certainly see the human drama in effect. And it is thrilling. There's nothing more dramatic than seeing the "underdog" win, despite the opinion and speculation of all.

Best of luck to your team!

Liza said...

I'm not really a big basketball fan either, but this week could really be great for TN. Memphis is going for the title tonight and the Lady Vols are going for the title tomorrow night.

Go Tigers!

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- Yes! That's exactly my message. I see so many parallels with what University of Memphis and many authors who slog away trying to reach that "dynasty" status. Trying to crack first publishing, then having a backlist, then making the big lists, etc.

I see a parallel in how romance authors are sometimes treated as "less than" in the world of publishing.

I see parallels in how many times they've come close and maybe they won't win this time, but they refuse to lose. They're in the game and they say coach has taught them to "expect good things" and to work for those good things.

Michele Hauf said...

Go Tigers!

Debra Dixon said...

Moira-- It is an exciting human drama. This time also underscores the value of character in our novels and in human drama. We care about people who struggle, who refuse to lose.


Debra Dixon said...

Liza-- Lady Vols! Now there is a b-ball dynasty. They are a class act and have proved it time and again. I'm pulling for them too.

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- Yep. Go, Tigers!

Playground Monitor said...

Despite growing up in North Carolina, the land of basketball (whose Tarheels got whomped on by Kansas Saturday night right after Memphis beat UCLA) I don't follow basketball. I just happened to see those Saturday games because I was some place where the TV was on.

What an amazing story about the Memphis team. And tonight I shall be cheering for them. Those boys deserve to win.

When my son was running college track, they had a former Olympic coach come in to speak to them. He looked at them and said "How much you want to win isn't important. What's important is how badly you hate to lose." My son really hates to lose and went on to win several individual conference titles. Now he's in grad school and is an assistant coach with the track team. He asks them every day how badly they hate to lose. He's going to be an awesome track coach one day.


Helen Brenna said...

Another non-bball fan here, Deb, but I wish your team the best of luck. Your message hits home too. Thanks for inspiring us all!

Oh, yeah. Go Tigers!!

flchen1 said...

I don't follow sports closely, but thanks for the great post--I love reading about what inspires greatness :) And go Tigers!

Melissa said...

Great blog!! And,uh, okay, I AM a B Ball fan...I'm from KY, how could I not be??? But it is amazing what those kids dig down deep and find within themselves, and they do it again and again, and alot of time with little or no sleep...and you should be proud. They've done an awesome job this year!!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, basketball. The only team sport I really follow. I'm a die-hard Timberwolves fan. I've also been cheering for Boston again (I go way back with the Celtics)for reasons Timberwolves fans know well. (KG for MVP!)

But, Deb, I must take issue with the notion at the Bill Walton era at UCLA was "a really really long time ago." It was only yesterday. The only time I've ever really followed college basketball was the period just prior to Walton's day because, yes, I was in college then. I was on the East coast watching Kareem make his mark as Lew Alcindor at UCLA (later to become a Laker, the team that of course once belonged to Minnesota) and Julius Erving (Dr. J) play for UMass, which was just over the notch from my Alma Mater.

All I really know from Memphis is that the Grizzlies beat the T-Wolves last night. Oh, well. We're rebuilding, and we could use a really great draft pick.

Oh, I did pay attention to UMinn bb the year the son of a couple of my former students from ND played there. There was a coaching scandal, and I was outraged by the way my kids' boy was treated. But that's another story.

Kathleen Eagle said...

The Powere to Make a Difference. I love that, Betina. Power to the People! (Seems like only yesterday...)

Christie Ridgway said...

Well, I admit we were rooting for UCLA. We were at a volleyball tournament with Son 2 and everyone was calling home every few minutes to get the score. But I like the story of the Memphis team, so WTG and congratulations to them! There's always next year for the Bruins (though it's unclear whether freshman Kevin Love is going to go pro or not...).

wolfpackgirl said...

I'm not the biggest basketball fan, it ranks probably third on my list of sports. My team didn't make it to the NCAA this year, so I didn't have a team I was really pulling for to win. I did however have a team I was pulling against, UNC. And they lost! :) So that was good for me. I know it's mean, but that's the nature of rivals.

After the Memphis story, I'll be pulling for them! Go Tigers!!

Debra Dixon said...

Thanks for the extra pull, guys!

I got called out of the house today so I'm just now catching up. :)

flchen1-- I like reading inspiring stories too. Makes me sit up straighter.

Melissa-- The digging deep part is so important. Do I want this? Do I want this as much as the Memphis boys wanted this season? It's a great yardstick for me now.

Kathleen-- LOL! In b-ball years, the Bill Walton era was eons ago. In people years...not so much. But a long time in basketball. (g)

Marilyn-- Being a coach has its rewards but it's also stressful. Yay for your son for stepping into that arena. Inspiring kids is an awesome job.

Christie-- I'm so sorry! I forgot I might be rubbing salt in a California girl's wounds. LOL! Shutting down Kevin Love was a big part of the plan. I heard rumors that they were going to up the draft age to prevent the "one and done" syndrome. We'll see. We'll probably lose 2 key players to early draft if they don't. And we're losing a couple of seniors too.

Wolfpackgirl-- LOL! Poor UNC. If they'd only known you were standing on their mojo... But, hey! Now you're done with that bit of business and can through some pull behind my boys!

Anonymous said...

i love it, duke is out booo
i am rooting for kansas
kim h

Betina Krahn said...

Wednesday: Awwww, Deb, I had my good wishes flowing toward Memphis, but Kansas won the final anyway.

Still, it was a fabulous season and your guys played spectacularly. They've put Memphis on the map and from now on, Memphis will be a known and respected team. It was a magnificent game. . . a final they'll talk about for along time to come.

Here's to your boys. May the lessons they've learned here see them successful in the rest of their lives!

Playground Monitor said...

What a game! I was pulling for Memphis all the way after reading the post yesterday. Those boys still played well and should hold their heads up high. There's still a heck of a lot of accomplishment to being #2 in the whole country.


Debra Dixon said...

Thanks, guys! It was so painful there at the end, but I agree that it was obvious that two quality teams were in it to win it.

My heart broke for them, but I remembered the lesson. They didn't crack when Tennessee beat them. They won't crack now. There will be GREAT recruiting and we'll rebuild with whomever we have left after the pros cherry-pick. (g)

In a way, I hope this loss makes a couple of our boys rethink almost certain early declarations for the draft.