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April 12, 2019
Claim Your Ticket
Monday night the Virginia Cavaliers made history by capturing the school’s first ever men's basketball National Championship, defeating Texas Tech in overtime 85-77. And while any team who wins a championship has an impressive story to tell, UVA’s story is uniquely powerful – not just for what they did, but for what they had to overcome in the process. It was only one year ago, entering the 2018 tournament as one of the favorites to win, that Virginia was making a different, more infamous sort of history.

Last year Virginia became the first #1 seed in tournament history to lose its opening-round game. #1 seeds were a combined 132-0 all-time in opening-round games, and heading into 2018’s tournament there was little evidence or belief that a 1-seed would ever lose. Then, UMBC (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) vs. Virginia happened. A #16 seed didn’t just beat a #1 seed, it whipped them by 20 points, 74-54. It was a shocking, devastating, humiliating loss for Virginia's proud and successful program. But Cavalier coach Tony Bennett, a champion of a man both on and off the court, handled the loss with class and dignity, and used that adversity to bring his team together moving forward. He used it to make them stronger and better. He used it to make them champions.

Throughout his team’s march to this year’s title, Bennett repeatedly had to answer questions about last year’s disappointment and its place in his program’s redemptive pursuit. On more than one occasion he referenced a quote that guided his mindset and attitude in the aftermath of that loss, a quote his wife Laurel had heard and shared from a 2014 TedTalk she attended. “If you learn to use it (adversity) right,” the quote went, “it can buy you a ticket to a place you would never have gone any other way.” Tony Bennett embraced that powerful perspective, and helped his players embrace it, too, on their way to this year's title.

The TedTalk Bennett referenced was given by a former Methodist minister from North Carolina named Donald Davis titled, “How the Story Transforms the Teller.” (It's well worth your time; you can watch it here .) In it, Davis explains an important lesson he learned from his father, a successful businessman known to those in his tiny Appalachian town as “Banker Joe” Davis. As a young boy, “Banker Joe” suffered a debilitating injury when he accidentally buried an ax in his kneecap and nearly lost his leg. Ultimately, Don Davis’s dad explained, that major setback in his life – a setback that easily could have defined him forever, if not destroyed him completely – actually became his ticket to someplace he never could’ve gone without it. Unable to work on the family farm, Joe Davis went instead to business school, and eventually became the successful banker his son knew him to be. “It is never, never tragic when something bad happens to you,” the father told his son, “because if you can learn to use it right, it can buy you a ticket to a place you would never have gone any other way.” 
"If you can learn to use it right, it can buy you a ticket to a place you would never have gone any other way.” 
If you’re here today reading along as a coach, I hope you’ll be inspired and encouraged by Tony Bennett’s powerful example. I don’t know what challenges may be coming for your team, but if you’re pursuing anything big and important together, you can bet that adversity will be a part of your story. The important question, then, becomes simply…which part? When your team faces a devastating loss, or some unexpected difficulty, or a barrage of criticism (either warranted or unwarranted), will you choose a typical, ordinary, mediocre response? Will you let your challenge define you? Or, like Tony Bennett, will you do what champions do? Will you recognize that if you use it right, that adversity can buy you and your team a ticket to a place you would never have gone any other way.

If you’re here today reading along as a parent, I hope you’ll be inspired and encouraged by a different example. The unexpected hero, and the real champion in this story about the 2019 Virginia men’s basketball team is a man who lived and died decades ago, a small-town banker who modeled for each of us what champion parenting looks like. When challenge and adversity became an unexpected part of Joe Davis’s story, he was forced to decide for himself the part it would play. He very easily could have chosen that typical, ordinary, mediocre response. He could have let his challenge define him. Instead, he chose to do what champions do. He used that adversity the right way, and it bought him a ticket to a place he never would’ve gone any other way. Not only did he set the example himself, he was also intentional about teaching that valuable, life-giving lesson to his son, who eventually shared it with the world. He purposely helped to shape his boy’s perspective on adversity, and purposely worked to develop his child’s winning response to the challenges this dad knew his son would inevitably face. That’s some elite-level parenting we could all learn from today.

I bet “Banker Joe” Davis never imagined that his near-fatal childhood injury would one day be inspiring Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers to write one of the great redemption stories in college sports history. But when you’re intentional about doing what champions do, and then teaching, training, and preparing those in your care, you never know where it might buy you and your story a ticket to go.

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