Back in my high school days in Saginaw, MI, I remember how nervous I would get before a big game.
I would pace back and forth, think about all of the plays we ran in practice, go over the game plan in my head, anything I could do to put my mind at ease.
Our coach would get us prepared, then give us a rousing speech and we would be pumped for the game.
This past winter, I coached a freshmen girls basketball team. We lost our first 14 games, and our final game was home against Chesaning, a team that handled us at their place by 19.
This game may not have meant much to Chesaning or anyone else, but for us it was our Super Bowl. No team wants to go winless at any level of competition (e.g. Lions, Detroit 2008).
We had a great week of practice, and our game plan was set. We knew that we would have to execute and play a perfect game to get our first W.
Before the game, I reminded my girls that I was so proud and that if they went out there and played hard and gave 100 percent, they would come out winners, regardless of the score.
I love how CBS has been showing the teams locker room right before the game. I love hearing what the coaches have to say. I love seeing the demeanor of the players. Are they nervous? Are they confident? It fascinates me.
On Saturday, moments before the 6:07 tip, Coach Izzo will rally his troops. Here is how I picture it in my head:
Coach Izzo: Here we are, guys. It's been a long season, but we are finally here. When the season started, we had a set of goals for this team.
Win the Big Ten Championship. Check.
Reach the Sweet 16. Check.
Elite Eight. Check.
Final Four. Check.
We have two checks left to go. This UConn team is tough. They have been tough all year. They are supremely talented, even more so than the team we just beat. It is going to take a collaborative effort for everyone on this team.
Hasheem Thabeet is a monster. It is going to take discipline and intelligence to neutralize his talents. Goran, make him guard you on the perimeter. Open up the lane so our guards can penetrate.
Idong, while you are in there, try to keep him off the offensive glass as best you can and force him to catch the ball 8-10 feet away from the basket.
Draymond, use your big body and play physical with the guy.
Kalin, the matchup with you and A.J. Price is going to be a good one. Price is a deadly shooter from the perimeter so we have to contest his outside shots and force him to take bad shots.
If he gets into the lane we have to collapse and then when he kicks run out and contest the shot.
Raymar. Wait, where is Raymar? Oh yeah, he hasn't shown up since before Christmas. Can someone please go find him?
Our transition game is going to be the determining factor. If we can create turnovers and capitalize on our fast break, that will be the great equalizer and take Thabeet out of the game. For all of the great things he does, running the floor isn't one of them.
It will be important to find our spot up shooter, Summers and Allen, on the break for a transition three. This is where we can really take advantage.
Let's go out there and play our game. We are in our own backyard, playing in front of our friends and family. The last time we played in this building we were utterly embarrassed. Let's not let that happen again.
We are a different team now. We have shown that we can play with the big boys. We are not intimidated.
We know that our famous alumni, Magic and Mateen, will be out there expecting us to represent "State" across your chest. Let's do it with pride! It's our time, men, let's make it happen!!!
Oh, and by the way, my freshmen team went out and played a perfect game. We beat Chesaning by 16 and ended our season with our first win. I have never been more happy and proud than when the final seconds ticked off the clock and I saw the sheer jubilation on those girl's faces.
I hope to see that same look on the Spartans player's faces when the final seconds tick off Saturday.
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