What an amazing few weeks it’s been! March Madness has certainly lived up to all its hype. Both our men’s basketball team and our women’s basketball team have discovered a winning formula: unity of purpose, hard work, and a belief that anything is possible.
I often write to you about the inevitability of adversity and the need for each of us to meet it with resilience and to learn from it. Today, however, as both of our teams move to the Final Four on the national stage, I’m also struck by the importance of being prepared to react wisely when things do go your way. Celebrating, of course, comes easy ... and nobody does that better than a Gamecock! In fact, I was so amused when some of you gathered at the fountain in front of the Thomas Cooper Library after the final victory at Madison Square Garden. Well ... actually it was “in” the fountain! But celebrating is only part of the deal. Remember what happened next. Coach Staley and Coach Martin reacted with humility ... praising their opponents first, then their families, players, staff, university, and especially their fans in attributing the reasons for their success. If you need a definition of “classy” that was it.
Earlier this week, a YouTube video of Coach Martin answering a question from a “cub reporter” from Sports Illustrated Kids went viral. He was asked what was more important for playing great defense ... attitude or technique. After praising the question, Coach answered, attitude, explaining that you can always teach technique to players who believe they will win, but it’s hard to change the attitude of a skilled player who doesn’t believe. Please remember the importance of attitude as you encounter the remaining challenges of college.
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I also had a great time with you at our sendoff and post-victory rallies. I spontaneously came up with two new cheers that Gamecocks hadn’t been overly familiar with and many of you responded wildly. The first was “How does it feel to be in the round of 16?” and you shouted back “Sweet!” A more recent cheer was “Final…” Unrehearsed, you screamed back “Four!” I took your own cheer creativity in stride when you caught me by surprise by chanting “cancel class, cancel class!” My response is that these teams didn’t get to where they were going by cutting corners, and neither will you. You pay a lot of money to attend your classes and I could not take that decision lightly (although you tempted me, greatly). Now if we win a National Championship or two ... I think we could excuse classes for a great, big parade and celebration!
As our University continues to shine in the national spotlight this week it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our unity of purpose and to tell the world that we not only have a championship attitude in sports but also in life. There is no need to brag or compare ourselves to others ... we have our own formula and others will see it in practice. And remember that while the national limelight in Dallas and Phoenix will shine brightly for a week, the brightest and most important light of all, is the one you carry with you every day.