Well, it is that time of the year. A little madness in the middle of March. 68 teams have made it to the “Big Dance”. There are 4 play in games that will cut the field down to the Final 64. One of the teams at the “dance” this year is Liberty University from Lynchburg Virginia. Liberty is a Baptist University and was a long-shot to make it to the tournament, especially after they started 0-8 and had their best player Antwan Burris on the shelf for the whole year with a foot injury. It looked like a long season for the Flames.
But then they started to turn things around a little. They started to win a few games here and there. At the end of the regular season, they were considered an incredible long shot to win their conference. But then they went on an amazing run, beating team after team that should have put an end to their season. They won their conference championship and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – a spot in a play-in game, becoming only the second team in history to make it to the tournament with 20 losses in a season. Now say what you want about automatic bids and whether or not the Flames deserved to be there or not, but it sure has been a great run for them. There is something to be said about peaking at the right time. You can read more about their season in this article from Washington Post.
Coach Dale Lever has been the coach of the Flames since 2009. He had been an assistant coach at Liberty, then took a job as assistant coach at Marquette with Buzz Williams (who I blogged about a year ago – read it here). As you can see in this video by Sports Spectrum Magazine, both Layer and women’s basketball coach Carey Green have a strong faith in God that guides them as men and as coaches, not only to strive for success on the court, but more importantly, success in what God has called them to do- disciple their players, lead the team and reflect Jesus while doing so.
They are humble men, desiring nothing beyond God’s plan for their programs. There are a lot of parallels between the role of a coach and our Christian faith. It is important to have mentors that will teach you, challenge you, expect you to stretch yourself and continue to grow in your faith. We will never reach a place where we can’t know God more. There isn’t a college basketball program whose players don’t game plan or practice, to make themselves better. A coach will help focus the gifts that the players have, and channel it into a plan that will give the team the best chance for success. The same can be said of a good mentor – He or she will challenge you to grow, to get better and to exceed expectations. They will also be there to give you some guidance, to correct what isn’t working and to cheer you on when you are meeting your potential.
As I type this, Liberty has lost their play-in game by 1 point against North Carolina A&T. This Cinderella’s trip to the ball was short lived, but the impact that Coach Layer has had on these men will go far beyond, and serve far greater purposes then this tournament would ever have allowed on its own. Congrats Flames on a great run at the end of the season. Keep the lessons you learned about God’s faithfulness along the way close by. They will serve you well in the rest of your life.