"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas. I’m like, no. We’re UConn. I mean this is what we do." — Kevin Ollie, head coach for the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team (1)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Five, four, three, two, one…and the horn sounds. The game is over, and sweating, much like the players on the court, I'm finally able to exhale.

They did it! They really did it!

Hordes of confetti cannons will soon spray rounds of ammunition throughout the massive AT&T Arena where the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies have just won the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in front of a record crowd of 79,238. The title is UConn’s fourth in men’s basketball in 16 years and they are the first number seven seed team to ever win the championship. The University of Connecticut is my alma mater and I was in attendance to see it all play out. However, that wasn’t the best part of the experience. My two sons were also in the stands at my side. That was the sweetest part of the Arlington adventure—enjoying the experience together. There are several things germane to success in training and in life. I considered several of these either during the game or directly following and would like to share them here.

Practice, practice, practice.

Shabazz Napier, UConn’s tenacious senior point guard, scored three of his 22 points on an impressive shot several feet beyond the three-point line during the first half. My younger son asked, “How does he do that? How does he make that shot every time?”

“He doesn’t make it every time,” my oldest retorted, the obligatory older brother contradiction.

I looked toward my younger son when there was a merciful break in the furious action and said, “Harrison, these athletes practice their craft for hours every day. They literally shoot for hours. They have to demonstrate incredible dedication to be as good as they are. It doesn’t just happen. It isn't magic; it’s a lot of hard work.” I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but it’s worth another mention. One of my training partners once remarked that I performed each and every set in the same manner. No matter the weight on the bar (empty bar or multiple plates on each side), my setup was the same for each and every set, including bar path, body tightness, and focus. As an athlete or anyone trying to achieve excellence, you have to do the little things. You have to practice the way that you play.

At Beast, we drilled some of the younger athletes on how to shake hands, and if you think I’m kidding, I’m not. If you think that’s crazy, recall that John Wooden, arguably the best college basketball coach of all time, drilled his players on how to properly wear their socks. Our overall goal was to prepare these young athletes for both success on the field and success in life. Practice. Do the work. Make yourself better and seize the opportunity to create a life worth living.


Speed kills.

I remember watching from the sidelines when some of our young football players were playing in the semifinals of the Connecticut State championship. Prior to arriving for the kickoff, I’d thought the contest was going to be decided by irresistible force meeting the immovable object. I’d heard nothing about our opponent other than how big they were and that they were also undefeated.

As it turned out, the rumors were true. Our opponents were massive; their offensive line literally towered over our defensive line. However, although they were massive, they were also relatively slow while we were mean, lean, and explosive. The contrast was astounding. My guys were as fast as lightning. Midway through the first quarter, I realized that our speed would be the difference maker and we would ultimately unseat our previously unbeaten opponent, which was exactly what transpired. I had that same feeling watching UConn’s two guards, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, play defense against the Kentucky guards. Initially, I thought that I was watching a scene from The Matrix. Kentucky appeared unsure of themselves, reluctant to put the ball on the floor, and for good reason.

“Every 50/50 ball they got,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game. “…I have to give Connecticut credit now because the way they were aggressively picking up the ball, we told our guys, if you don’t play with energy, they’re going to” (2).

All athletes benefit from speed and basketball players are certainly no exception. Games can be won or lost based on the speed differential of the involved athletes. While strength is a contributing factor in overall speed, an athlete can't achieve great speed by training solely for strength; the fast-twitch muscle fibers must also be trained. Train also for power. Don’t neglect the explosive movements (e.g., sprints, medicine ball work, and plyometrics). An exhaustive discussion of dynamic training is beyond the scope of this article, but you should consider taking advantage of the resources available on the elitefts™ website and/or invest in a trainer. Invest in your future.

Have tenacity and keep training.

"We wanted to keep on getting up the floor, keep on running and running. Guys are not ready for that. They get tired. They get winded. But we were definitely ready for it." — Shabazz Napier, UConn senior guard (3)


The University of Connecticut men’s team was smaller than nearly every team they faced in the post-season, yet they had a tenacity about them, a tenacity that comes with confidence, a confidence that comes with training. UConn’s second year coach and former player, Kevin Ollie, increased the team’s weight training regimen in order to strengthen his players' legs. He also accompanied the team for their routine hill sprint work. Their strength and conditioning program prepared them to handle teams that were both bigger and stronger and those efforts paid significant dividends throughout the tournament. It feels incredibly empowering to take the court (or field of play) knowing that you’re better physically prepared than your opponent, but only you can do the work.

"Anyone predict that? We found out tonight that he is one of the best, if not the best, coach in America." — Warde Manuel, University of Connecticut athletic director (3)

Don’t give up…don’t ever give up.

The University of Connecticut men’s basketball program started the season ranked number eighteen in the Associated Press poll. They dropped out of the top 25 twice and lost to Louisville by 33 points in the last regular season game. On Monday, April 7, they won the 2014 NCAA National Championship. Don’t give up…don’t ever give up. It’s the motto of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, and it’s a good mantra for life.

Let’s face it—life can be a hard road fraught with challenges, failures, and successes. I recall having a particularly challenging day at work many years ago. One of my colleagues, who was also having a rough time, looked at me from across the room and said, “We were football players. We know how to handle adversity.”

I’m not suggesting that you had to have been an athlete to understand how to surmount life’s challenges, but I knew what he meant at the time and I knew that I would push through. I knew he would surmount the obstacles as well because of the quality of his character. I will always prevail, and you can, too, as long as you have an understanding of the work that’s required and a level of persistence, perseverance, and dedication. And yes, depending on what you're trying to accomplish, the workload can be fierce. That said, you also have to be cognizant of enjoying the journey. Don’t forget to take a step back from time to time and live in the now. Remember to appreciate what you have and understand that having the ability to work hard is truly a gift.

If you’ve been knocked on your ass as I have many times, pick yourself up, dust off the khakis, and get back to work. Good things will happen—eventually.


Maintain a high quality of character.

"He’s not only a great coach. Believe me when I tell you, we’re telling each other before the game, I love you. He’s telling me I love him, he loves me. I mean, this guy is one of the greatest guys of all time. And I hate losing, but I’m happy he won. I hate losing. But I’m happy he won." — John Calipari, Kentucky coach speaking about Kevin Ollie (4)

When I think about maintaining a high quality of character, there are two requirements that immediately come to mind:

  • Treat others with respect.
  • Always do what you say you are going to do.

In my opinion, treating others with respect is usually easy. When an athlete initially walked into the Beast, we didn’t care if he could squat 500 pounds or the bar. As long as he was willing to put in the effort and do the work, he earned our respect. We admired him for his willingness to put in the work, and we were proud of him. Individuals with a high quality of character don’t need to condescend to others in order to feel good about themselves. They aspire to lift others.

Always do what you say you're going to do. Keeping to your word is very important when you’re trying to make any inroads in life. It’s such a simple thing, but by the same token, it’s utterly amazing how many people can’t do it. If I tell you that I’m going to be at the gym at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday to train heavy squats, unless I’m involved in a serious accident and/or am in the hospital, I’m going to be there. It can take a long time to earn the trust of others, particularly coaches or superiors at work and especially training partners, but that trust cache that you’ve worked so long and hard to bank can be lost in a millisecond if you fail to maintain your word.

In closing

I don’t think being considered a Cinderella is necessarily a negative. Lots of individuals have attained high levels of success while initially flying under the radar. In the final analysis, you have to have the courage, intelligence, and tenacity to do what is required to be successful. Most of you already have at least some understanding of what is required. The time is now because the competition is fierce. If you don’t do it, if you don’t start taking the steps today, someone else will and they will be the individuals to stand on that podium of success. On Monday evening, I was fortunate once again to live vicariously through the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program and peripherally enjoy a modicum of their success with loved ones at my side to share in the experience. As Dickie Vitale would say, "Serendipity, baby!"


  1. Amore Dom. “CHAMPIONS! UConn Takes The Stairs To NCAA Mountaintop.”Hartford Courant, April 8, 2014. Web: April 12, 2014.
  2. Gasper Christopher L. “They’re No. 1 and This Win Was Extremely Well Done.”The Boston Globe (Boston, MA), April 8, 2014. Web: April 12, 2014.
  3. Bachman Rachael. “UConn 60, Kentucky 54: Just as No One Predicted, the Huskies Are Champions.” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2014. Web: April 12, 2014.
  4. Calipari John. “NCAA MEN’S FINAL FOUR.” ASAP Sports Transcripts, April 7, 2014. Web: April 12, 2014.