It was our goal to be the toughest team physically and mentally in our conference. To us, that meant we'd be the most conditioned, best executing, most find-a-way-to-win program in our league. We would practice with championship habits and play the full 40 no matter what the scoreboard said. Our unrelenting style of play would be reinforced by the environment we created and our togetherness. Ultimately, we wanted to be in peak physical and mental condition to take what we want. Toughness was our identity. We started our first team meeting each year with the same saying. There are 9 teams in the conference. There are 6 teams who make the playoffs and historically Lesley has not been one of them, missing the conference playoffs for 9 straight years. But, that was about to change. That means one team who usually makes the playoffs is not going to anymore. We are going to take their seat at the table. We don't know who it will be - We don't really care. We care about us and creating a program with winning habits and serving our values until we get what we want.
It really started in our first year. We hung our hat on toughness and defense. That year, we had 5 returning players, 2 of whom started previously, 3 rarely played. We filled out our roster with 5 players whose primary sport was baseball. 3 of them played basketball in high school and 2 didn't. We took our lumps early, but delivered the same message daily - We would honor toughness and be intolerant of selfish behavior. We hammered this home. Everything was a lesson and our guys ran a lot of sprints, until they learned how to interact respectfully with one another while still being able to push. That year, we won 2 games which is probably 2 more than we should have won, but what's more important is that we set the tone for toughness in our program. We set the record for fewest points allowed in a half in Lesley history (13) and we lost 7 conference games by 6 points or less. Now, I'm not into moral victories - but there was something to build on. It was a way about us, an attitude, a togetherness....an identity.
We were tough. We embodied toughness. It didn't matter the conditions, we were focused on serving our core values and being the tougher team. We went on to have unprecedented success in our 3rd and 4th years, but we had to overcome a lot. During the 2017-18 season, we were fresh off the best season in school history. As conference play got underway, our best player ruptured his achilles. Before the season started, we had to part ways with our starting shooting guard who was a 2000 point scorer in high school. Further into the conference schedule, we lost our starting center. But, it was our core values - our togetherness, our environment and our toughness - that propelled us to a 4th place finish and a second consecutive appearance in the conference semifinals without our three best players. It was next person up, it was maintaining a high level of expectation instead of giving into excuses. The mental toughness our program had and instilled was impressive.
The moral of the story is - who are you in the face of adversity? Do you give in and lower expectations when the chips are down? Or do you somehow find a way to win - although it may be uglier, grittier and scrappier than you expected? It's easy to say, but it's tough to do when, say, three focal points of your team, on and off the court, are no longer able to suit up. Look, things in life seldom go as we expect, there is always a speed bump or a pothole... or even a mountain that you will have to scale. But the bottom line is that your desired results are on the other side of the obstruction. Your program or organization needs core values to lean on during these times - they will get you there. I've said in an earlier blog that If your team is solely based on talent and superficial characteristics, facing adversity will break you. In our case, three of our most talented players couldn't play. How would we react if our team was based solely on talent? But, if you show up every day with a purpose while serving the core values of your program, you are built to weather the storm. It's not about the adversity. It's how you react to it. If your core values have been established and served way before the adversity hits, not only are you are prepared to weather the storm, you don't react to the adversity. You almost welcome and find a way to win in spite of it.