I am a fan of University of Kentucky basketball. Let me be a little more specific. I am a fair-weather fan of University of Kentucky basketball. What I enjoy is watching a very good team play some very exciting basketball. When the season holds such magic, I enjoy watching the games. When it does not, I might go a whole season without watching a single game. If you have kept up at all with this season’s team, you might already realize I am watching every game I can.
For those not up to speed, the coach of UK’s basketball team, John Calipari, has put together something magical this year, which is part because of his recruiting, and it is partially due to some of last year’s players deciding to not go to the NBA. That means he has an entire team of players who could start on any basketball team in the nation. Ten of those players started out this season as the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, an almost unheard of strategy in college basketball where the entire team was switched out every four minutes. Unfortunately, that left an entire third string of players, who could start on most any team in the nation, sitting on the bench in their warm up suits.
Early in the season, Alex Poythress, who plays power forward for UK, tore his ACL and ended his season. This left a vacancy in one of the platoons, which has resulted in some varied combinations on the team, but ultimately an opportunity. This was, at least in one game, filled by Dominique Hawkins.
I write all this for a reason. There are still a number of players on the bench. Players who rarely get any floor time, yet they are great by most accounts. Players who were superstars in their high school careers. Yet they get almost no time on the floor playing. Why? They aren’t “earning” it. I watched an interesting video and read an interesting article on this yesterday by The Courier Journal.
Derek Willis, one of those on the bench for UK, was hoping to fill that vacancy left by Alex Poythress, yet when the time came he was not chosen. The aformentioned article goes into some detail why. Derek is not the most renouned speaker in the world, but what he said is a great life lesson for anyone. Derek states, “I’ve asked a lot of people, talked to them about it, (and) I’m really just getting the same thing: Just get in the gym more and just be around the game more.” Whoa! Did you read that? Now to be fair, Derek admits he is struggling with this lesson, but even so he has said something profound here that applies to all of us. If you aren’t happy with where you are in your career, talk to your coach (your boss) and others in a mentor position, find out what “practice” is in your career, and do more of that. Do more of what it takes to get your time on the floor. If you are on the floor, do not take that lightly because there may be another player on the team who wants it more, who is willing to work harder than you, and if so, they may take your spot.
This reminds me of a player on the football team on which my son has played. He wasn’t the biggest player on the team, but during the off-season he spent his time at the gym, working out regularly. He would come back each season more bulked up than the last. It came to a point his calves were like most people’s thighs in size. And that wasn’t all. He was bulking up all over. He was doing what it took, and it paid off. He became one of the premier players on the team, often getting an opportunity to run the ball down the field, often being put in tough spots due to his athleticism. He made this opportunity. It didn’t just happen.
It also reminds me of Ozzie Smith, one of the greatest shortstops of all time in baseball. I have heard it said that Ozzie would pay kids in the street to come in and either hit or throw ground balls to him so he could practice his trade. If that is true, then it certainly speaks to the lesson Derek Willis is learning too. It doesn’t matter how great you are, more time practicing, no matter how great you are, results in better performance – period.
As we all look at our lives, what are we doing to get more time on the floor in our lives? Derek Willis, I am watching you. I hope you have learned as much from this as I have learned from you. I want to see if you grab this opportunity and show the world what it takes to be on the floor.