DOD, college basketball coaches kick off 'Commitment to Serve'
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened the event, welcoming the coaching panel and moderator Jay Bilas of ESPN.
“This is a Hall of Fame group right here,” Dempsey said to a Pentagon Auditorium audience. “You all may have one or two other favorites, but this is about as good as you’re going to see assembled in one place to lead elite athletes in a very, very complete sport -- a sport I love dearly.”
Dempsey also recognized the coaches’ spouses for their commitment, noting that like those of military spouses, they are part of a team.
“They take and share what is sometimes a burden, but it’s probably most often a blessing as you watch these kids grow and develop and you nurture them,” he said.
The chairman said this event serves to “connect the best with the best.”
“These are the best coaches in the land,” Dempsey said. “They coach the most elite basketball players in the land at the college level.” He explained that he wants to connect them with the best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen on the planet, and said that’s what the initiative is about.
“It’s also about reminding ourselves that whatever endeavor in which we find ourselves, whether it’s professional basketball, collegiate basketball, any other sport or the military, it’s about the country,” Dempsey said.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with not just the teams and these coaches, but with a much broader audience,” the chairman told the audience. “It’s all about service.”
Bilas -- who the chairman noted was his favorite basketball player on his favorite team when the ESPN basketball analyst was a four-year starter at Duke University in the 1980s -- expressed his gratitude to be able to reach service members and their families via broadcasts from American Forces Network to troops around the world and ships at sea.
“It is a singular honor for all of us to be here among you,” he said. “All the coaches -- we’ve spent the last day and a half talking about the awe that we have for you and the commitment to selfless service that all of you have made.”
This summit conference is on leadership, Bilas said, and there’s certainly some overlap.
“The consequences in your game are a little bit different than the consequences in this game,” he noted. “But I think there are lessons that all of us can learn from each other, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Each of the seven coaches participating in the panel discussed, among other concepts, what leadership is to them.
Geno Auriemma, women’s basketball coach for the 2014 NCAA champion University of Connecticut team and Team USA, said he really embraced the idea that he can’t control everything.
“There are things that I can spend a lot of time on,” he said. “We can work as hard as we can to prepare the players to be ready to do certain things, but when it’s time to perform, I really can’t control the outcome.”
Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim said adversity can reveal leadership. “It’s when you lose a game or two that you really come to find out who are the guys that are going to step up now,” he said. “It’s those guys that can do it when things are not going well.”
Just making sure not to overreact is a useful lesson, University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon said he has learned in his coaching career.
Michigan State University men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo shared his thoughts on the term “lead by example.”
“To me, ‘lead by example’ is OK, but it’s kind of a selfish way of looking at things,” he said. “If you’re not leading by bringing others with you, … you’re relying on those other players to see what you’re doing.”
Kevin Ollie, coach of the University of Connecticut’s 2014 NCAA champion men’s basketball team, told the audience he believes leadership is “two-fold.”
“It’s either I’m liked or I’m respected,” he said. “I want to be respected. I want to challenge everybody around me. I also want to do a self-[evaluation] of myself and look in the mirror,” he said, asking himself, “Am I’m doing the best things possible to lead my basketball team?
Texas Tech University men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith said he learned if “you take care of business, it’s like a team.”
“We’re all on this team,” he said. “Everybody has a role to play.”
Villanova University men’s basketball coach Jay Wright said he values “people who believe their value is their impact on others.”
“When you meet people that value themselves by how they impact others, those people are usually great leaders,” he said.
The panel discussion concluded after more than an hour, having touched on topics of leadership, recruiting and retaining talent, and helping young players transition to the next phase of their lives.
Brent Colburn, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, thanked the panel on behalf of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the chairman and =the audience.
“They say this all the time, [but] they really do believe our strength is that our people want to constantly learn [and] constantly get new skills,” he said. “So thank you all for being down here, and thank you for everything you do,” Colburn said.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)