Many of you are old enough to know about the “Three R’s” that we often heard about growing up: “Reading, Writing, and (A)rithmetic”. This week, I’ve taken pause to think about a new set of R’s…..Roy, Redemption, and the Resurrection.
If you’ve even been half-awake the last couple of days, then you know that the NCAA basketball final game was this past Monday evening. A local favorite (unless you went to Duke), the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), emerged as one of the last two teams standing, pitting themselves against the “no longer called Cinderella” team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Our UNC Tarheels were crowned the victors sometime close to midnight, Eastern Time, winning the game by a final score of 71-65.
Now if that were the only storyline for this week, then I’d wrap up now. But, you already know that’s not the case. So, this week, I’m thinking about a new set of three R’s.
First, Coach Roy Williams is my first R. The longtime head coach for the Tarheels, was formerly the head coach at the University of Kansas between the years of 1988 and 2003. At Kansas, Roy had an overall winning percentage of .805, won nine conference titles, and took the Jayhawks to fourteen consecutive NCAA tournaments. During his tenure at Kansas, Roy coached in two final championship games (in 1998 and 2003), losing both however. After the 2003 season, Roy returned to the University of North Carolina, his alma mater, taking over the head coaching role, where he currently sits today. Since arriving to UNC, Roy has had a winning percentage of .776, has taken the team to the NCAA tournament thirteen times, and has won the overall championship three times. Roy stands as the only division 1 men’s basketball coach to have won over 350 games at two different schools.
All that aside, what has always stood out to me is Coach Roy’s character, the way his players react to his leadership, and his heartfelt love for the team. If you were up late on Tuesday night, like me, hopefully you saw the trophy presentation made to the Tarheels. At one point, the championship’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP), point guard Joel Berry II, was being asked my CBS analyst, Jim Nance, about some of the aspects of the game. I don’t recall the questions, nor do I remember the answers. However, what struck me was the poise and politeness from Berry. His answers were always precluded with a “yes sir”, coming across most humbly and sincere. This “kid” had just won the national championship game, was named the MOP, and yet he kept the composure that would make any parent and coach extremely proud. I’m not taking anything away from Berry’s upbringing, but few might disagree that the character of Berry is a direct reflection of the mentoring from Coach Roy.
Next, redemption. Last year was a blur for me, having just moved to Charlotte a few months earlier and just started a new job, I had lost sight of the outcome to last year’s final game. In that game, UNC lost the game, a heartbreaker, when Villanova sank a jump shot in the final seconds of the game to declare victory. That loss left a sting in the mouths of many Tarheel players, who dedicated this season to avenging that loss in the 2016 title game. Similar to another Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) college’s program, the Clemson Tigers who had loss the 2016 football title game, UNC’s team set their sites on one goal: Redemption for the 2016 loss.
Like any season, this year’s was a series of ups and downs. The Tarheels never dropped out of the Top 20 rankings, although there were weeks when being a formable contender for the tournament seemed bleak at best. But you started to see things clicking on all cylinders as the days to the final season were winding down. The Tarheels were peaking at the right time, it seemed. Could this be the year of redemption after all?
Sometimes you need great skills and other times you need great luck. UNC had both this season, especially in the tournament. Just ask Luke Maye. In the final game, Gonzaga keep things close….probably too close for the UNC faithful. However, with less than a minute to go in the game, and the possession arrow pointing towards the ‘Heels, you had a sense that they were going to win. The Tarheels rallied at the right time, blocked a critical shot by the Zags, and sealed the victory with a crushing slam dunk by Justin Jackson. Redemption, indeed!
Finally, my last R is the Resurrection. This Sunday we’ll celebrate Palm Sunday. On the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday represents the gateway to Holy Week. In a mere matter of days, Jesus goes from being celebrated as the uncommon king, riding into town on the back of a donkey, to his arrest and murder on a cross. And, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
As Christians and “believers”, we know how and why this happened. This was part of God’s plan, and fulfilled by his beloved son, Jesus, as the way to absolve us of our sins. For all of us, there is a final buzzer in the game of life. The Resurrection is our insurance to endless life in heaven, and, for some, days of basketball where every shot is probably celebrated as the “game winner”.
As you lean forward into another Holy Week, join me in celebrating not only our earthly excitements given to us by great coaches, players, and teams, but also the promise of joining our heavenly Father one-day through the gift of the Resurrection.