Luke Ridenour – Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week I wrote a post in tribute to my childhood home – Canada.  Today, I would like to share the story of a member of the basketball team in my current home – the Twin Cities, in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves have struggled for relevance in the playoff conversations for a few years now, and while there was hope that things had turned around this year, it is looking more and more like this will not be the year that T’Wolves return to the post season.

Last night was faith & family night at the Target Center, and Luke Ridenour was there to share the story of his faith.  He missed the game winning shot at the end of the game, but won the hearts of the ones that stayed after the game to share his story.  

Check out this podcast interview with Ryan McNeill at hoopsaddict.com.  He shares about how he wants to use basketball as a platform to tell people about Jesus and how he hopes to go into full time ministry when his playing days are over.

You can also read this article about him in Beyond the Ultimate.  The article references the verse in 1 Corinthians 4 that talks about keeping your eyes fixed on the eternal.  Luke wants his life, his career and all that he does to be lived for eternity.  Sounds like a great goal to have for all of us.  Let’s look around us to see needs, let’s be genuine with our own faith. Russell Crowe’s character said in the movie Gladiator  “What we do in this life echos in eternity”  That is true for us, too.  By sharing Jesus with others, God can use us to change their life now and for eternity.

Hard Court Christianity – Men of Faith in the NBA Finals

Well, the NBA finals are upon us and it is time to decide which of the two teams in the finals I hope will hoist the hardware in before the end of the month.  Regardless of whether you are a King James fan or a LeBron hater, there is something to be said about the Heat’s back to back trips to the finals.  Their hunger for a title was left unmet after last years loss to Dallas.  They return this time around, but their path to a title is not any easier.  They play a young, vibrant Thunder team whose core is under 25 but who also have some savvy veteran pieces that give them a “complete team” feel.  So which side are you on?

Kevin Durant OKC Thunder

For me, being a casual NBA fan, therefore, having my allegiances easily swayed, I must admit that I have been won over by the Thunder.  They are so young and energetic, and their brand of basketball is so fun to watch.  Kevin Durant is a superstar already, and not yet 24.  Yet, unlike many in the realm of professional athletics – he is known for his humility that comes from his relationship with God.  Check out this story from Sports Spectrum.  There has been hardship, pain and through it all, opportunity to build his relationship with God and depend on Him for guidance and direction.  He also has been a leader on his young team, even encouraging his teammates to attend chapel services before each game.

You can get more insight from him on his faith in this interview with Chad Bonham at InspiringAthletes.com

Dwayne Wade - Miami Heat

 

Chad Bonham also did an interview piece on another player in this year’s NBA finals.  Miami Heat perennial All-Star Dwayne Wade.  In this story, we read about the trials that Wade has gone through – on the court as a barely recruited high schooler who would go on to turn heads for Marquette, and off the court with a nasty divorce from his wife, legal troubles his mom went through, his parents relationship splitting up when he was young.  There is a lot of pain and difficulty in his story, but through the hard times, his relationship with God strengthened.  Even when it comes to the commercial aspect of his career, he is up front with his faith.  Check out this ad for Converse, where Wade shares the importance of his faith.

So as the finals start tonight, I am sure that you have picked who you are hoping for.  I think OKC will take it in 6 or 7 games, but I am wrong at least as much as I am right.  It will be an entertaining series no matter what, and with Wade, Durant and others carrying with them the knowledge of who God is and a desire to serve Him faithfully,  God will be glorified which is the best victory of all.

March Madness Special – Final Four Edition

Well, championship weekend has arrived for all you crazy NCAA basketball fanatics out there.  This year’s tournament has been pretty entertaining, and has had enough big upsets that many brackets around the country are busted.  As we look at the final four, there are some intriguing side notes.  There is the battle for, not only a championship game birth, but also college hoop bragging rights for the state of Kentucky.  Kentucky vs. Louisville should be a decent match – I do believe that Kentucky is still the team to beat and will win game 1 by 8 or so.

I find it a little harder to pick the other game – Kansas and Ohio state were both #2 seeds in their brackets.  I live in a Big-10 city, so I have heard all about the greatness of Ohio State.  But for the same reason, I hear about them as the “enemy” a powerhouse in the conference, and so it is hard to want them to be successful.  On the other hand, Kansas is one of those program that always seems to be an elite program.  I guess that makes sense when you consider that the program’s first ever coach was none other than James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball.

Naismith is in the Basketball Hall of Fame

In college, I wrote a paper on Naismith and the history of basketball.  Naismith was a Canadian living in the US, who invented a game that could be played indoors in the cold winter.  It is a game that went from imagination (inspired by a kid’s game called “Duck on a Rock”) to  it’s humble beginnings of peach baskets and a soccer ball, designed for recreation (Naismith said that better exercise came from

The first game of basketball at the Springfield MA YMCA

Gymnastics and wrestling) all the way to what we know today – slam dunks, ally oops and Lin-Sanity – a sport played by over 300 million people worldwide.  Naismith was a Canadian, working at a YMCA in Springfield MA when he dreamed up basketball.  He saw sport as a means to tell others about Christ.  Here are a couple of articles to check out if you want more information about Naismith and his Faith in God.

Wall Street Journal  article on Naismith creating basketball as a means to draw young men from the community in to tell them about Jesus.

kusports.com has this article about Naismith, “Muscular Christianity” and the legacy of basketball.

And here is what Wikipedia writes about  “Muscular Christianity”

The idea of using sport as a means to share your faith with others and let them know about God’s love and grace is at the heart of why I started this blog in the first place.  I am encouraged by the stories of athletes who see God at work in their lives and want to let others know how important God is, not just in what they do on the field, but who they are off of the field.

So, with the final four starting today, I want to take this chance to thank James Naismith for dreaming up this game that is so entertaining to watch and fun to play – every March it captures the attention of the sport loving-culture of North America.

Landen Lucas, after committing to KU

And I also want to take a moment to tell you about an incoming Jayhawks player – Landen Lucas.  He has just finished up

his senior at Westview High school in Portland Oregon.  He has committed to Kansas University and is excited about putting on the Jayhawk jersey in the fall.  Read an interview that Lucas did with Jesus N’ Sports blog here.  He will start at Kansas next year. Here is what you can expect to see from him on the court.

 

 

So enjoy the games today, and the championship on Monday Night.  I expect we will see Kentucky edge past Kansas on Monday to cut down the nets as NCAA champs.  Enjoy the great game of basketball, and thank God for the heart behind the man who invented it.  May God be glorified in the lives of all His children – no matter what field of work/play that He calls them to.  He is able to use anything to His glory.

March Madness Round 2 – Christians in NCAA men’s basketball

This is so fun.  As I mentioned in my last post, I am not much of a college basketball fan.  I start watching in March when the tournament kicks off.  That means that I am not particularly invested in any of the teams.  But as I look into the stories of the players (and in this case the coaches) of the teams in the tournament, I am finding some great people to cheer for.  This time, I want to bring your attention to Buzz Williams, head coach of the Marquette University Golden Eagles.  Reading his story reminds me of why I started this blog in the first place.  I love to read about people who love God and love sports and love opportunities to see how God can use sports to help people meet him or learn more about him.  I went looking for someone, anyone to write about and came across these articles on Buzz Williams.  I am encouraged by what I read – I hope you will be, too.

I knew of Williams – due to some of the controversies and quirkiness that has followed him.  First there was dancing in West Virginia.  It appears innocent enough, but West Virginia fans didn’t appreciate his dance after Marquette defeated the Mountaineers earlier this year.  Then there was the press conference after Marquette defeated Murray State in the round of 32 where Coach Williams had a stream of consciousness monologue with a nursery rhyme, a baseball analogy and a lot of emotional gratitude for his wife and 4 kids and the sacrifices they make for him to live this life as a coach.  But when you check out the video below – also part of the same press conference, you get to hear Williams heart for his team, and the ultimate importance is having an impact on the life of the kids in his program, showing that his teaching is much more then x’s and o’s and on the court game planning.

I also read a blog mentioned something else he said.  He said to not get so focused on the journey that we forget the lessons we learn along the way.  This is an important thing to consider.  Life is full of adventure and while it is short compared to eternity, it is also a journey with many pieces and opportunities to learn along the way.  Williams has had lots of opportunity to learn lessons from what life has sent him through.

Williams grew up in Texas, a child of divorce.  That explains some of his emotionalism about his wife and kids as seen in this most recent press conference.  You can read more about his life, and his priorities in this article from fox sports.  The perpetually hoarse-voiced coach has worked his way up from a 21 year old $400-a-month assistant coach to a head coach at a Division 1 school.  He is leading Marquette to become an elite program.  They are in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row – the first time Marquette has ever done that.  And while the coaching competition left in his bracket maintain very impressive resumes (4 national titles, 14 final fours and 1400 career wins) Marquette is seen to have a legitimate shot of coming out of their bracket, into the final four.

I picked Marquette to make some noise this year and reach the final four in my bracket.  I did so without any reason, except that I heard one “expert” (though I can’t remember who it was) say he expected that they could come out of their region.  But the more I look into Williams story, the more I like him and the way he operates.  Check out this article, too from insidemilwaukee.com.  Let me sum it up for you.  Williams is finishing his first year as Marquette head coach.  They have played Missouri tough, only to lose on what seemed like questionable officiating (There was even an NCAA rule change after this game altering the rule for who can take free throws for an injured teammate.  There is sadness and disappointment all over the place.  Coach Williams pulls the team together and ends the season with a prayer for the players, particularly and their future, whatever it may hold.  He regularly prays for his players, too – before practices, before games, when injured, on birthdays, etc.  His faith in God is the heartbeat for all he does as a coach, be is striving to improve on the basketball court or looking to enhance and influence the lives of his players away from the court.  There is a lot to like about Buzz Williams and the ministry he has as head basketball coach at Marquette.  And I, for one, am hoping for a deep run in the tournament if for no other reason then to give Williams lots of opportunity to honor God through his work.

 

Go Golden Eagles!!

March Madness Special – Opening Rounds

How is your bracket doing?  I’m in some trouble.  But I think with 2 #2 seeds falling to start off and other upsets peppered in, I may not be the only one.   I am NOT an avid college hoops guy, but I do enjoy tournament time.  The quality of the play, the breathlessness of upsets and potential upsets, the drama of buzzer beaters and win-or-go-home reality of the brackets make for a great 3 weeks every March.

I admit that My knowledge about college ball is not vast.  I know that I like to cheer for the underdog.  I also know you usually find Duke, NC, Kentucky in high seeds.  They are  powerhouse programs and always seem to be in contention for the championship.  I am also a fan of the movie Hoosiers, so I have a soft spot in my heart for Indiana basketball.  So I decided, now that the tournament has begun, I better find some teams (or rather) players to invest some interest in watching. And 2 of the above schools came up immediately in my hunt.  I would like to bring your attention to the Zeller brothers.  There are 3 of them, Cody, the youngest, playing for the Hoosiers, Tyler, playing for North Carolina, and Luke, the oldest that played for Notre Dame, and is now in the NBA D- League in the San Antonio Spurs organization after some stints in other countries.

Cody Zeller

Luke Zeller

Tyler Zeller

In this article from Sharing the Victory Magazine, you can read about their upbringing on an Iowa farm, the closeness as a family, and their deep-rooted faith in God that took hold for each of them as teenagers, and the desire they have to impact lives for Christ through their play on the court and their efforts off the court.  Also mentioned is DistinXion – an family run organization that teaches leadership and character skills through basketball and cheer-leading.  According to their website, the Zellers’ dad Steve asked coaches that were recruiting his sons what asset they (coaches) wished more recruits possessed, and the answer that came back most often was “good character”.  From there DistinXion was birthed.  The Zeller’s boys offer sports camps, tournaments and training to build character and leadership skills in young basketball players and cheerleaders.  It is so cool to see this undertaking and responsibility put in place from these young men that are not far out of high school themselves.

I was glad to find this story, for some non-game related points of interest for the tournament.  I’ll keep my eyes open for more in the rest of the tournament.  Check back on Wednesday for more NCAA related posts.  In the meantime, hope your bracket isn’t busted yet!

Zeller parents cheering for NC and Indiana