UK’s John Calipari and ESPN’s Jay Bilas have something in common other than basketball.
Calipari wants you to be a tough person.
Bilas wants you to be a tough person.
Well, not physically, but mentally tough through a lifetime of preparation and discipline to be a success. That’s pretty much the theme of Bilas’ new 254-page book, titled “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court” (Penguin Group, $26.95).
And Calipari agrees with Bilas’ toughness approach.
With the struggling Kentucky squad now finishing with a 21-12 mark and ending its up-and-down campaign with two consecutive disappointing setbacks in two different post-season tournaments, the Wildcat coach has said his young team, for the most part, lacked the toughness to play well on a high level in college basketball.
“There is a certain toughness that you have to have in this thing, and I have always had it,” said Calipari before leaving for Pittsburgh where his Cats eventually dropped to Robert Morris in a season-ending 59-57 upset on Tuesday night. “When you don’t have it, you know. The thing again is toughness. Jay Bilas wrote that book, and it’s a great book because it’s not just that you want to get in a fistfight. There is a certain thing about mental toughness and those 15 or 16 things that you have that you are just tougher at. You understand that preparation makes you tough. That hard work and doing more than what is expected at practice makes you tougher.”
According to the 6-7 Bilas, a former four-year starter and ex-assistant coach at Duke, the idea for his book began several years ago after receiving excellent feedback on a story that he wrote about toughness.
“It was related to an article I wrote for ESPN.com four years ago,” Bilas said via e-mail with this columnist. “I wrote about what toughness really is in basketball, and I heard from people all over the world. I knew there was more to explore, and that toughness resonated with people, so I consulted some of the smartest and toughest people I know to research and write this book.”
Calipari is also one of the early admirers of Bilas’ philosophy on toughness.
“John read the article and was kind enough to reach out to me,” said Bilas, a native Californian who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., with his family. “He teaches the same concepts, and this was something that echoed his teachings, but in a different voice. He told me how he shared it with his team at Memphis. That was really nice to know.”
The book takes an in-depth look at toughness through a series of insights, stories and wisdom about the individuals he has met on and off the court, including sports figures like Jon Gruden, Herm Edwards, John McEnroe, Bob Knight, among others.
The 49-year-old Bilas, a likeable guy with a thoughtful and reasonable TV voice, writes there are life skills, such as persistence, self-evaluation, team-oriented mindset and resilience that can be learned to achieve success through toughness.
While I haven’t finished reading Bilas’ book at this writing, I ran across an interesting tidbit involving Mike Krzyzewski, his former coach at Duke, when the author was discussing trust and belief as two of the traits needed for toughness.
Bilas writes that Coach K would get goose bumps on his arms or legs when addressing the team. The author pointed out that he has never seen a coach fake goose bumps, and he trusted Coach K and believed him.
According to Bilas, who twice has been named the best analyst in college basketball by Sports Illustrated, not very many folks from the coaching profession have gotten mad at him for his on-the-air comments.
“Very rarely,” said Bilas when asked if the coaches have criticized his TV work. “Coaching is a high stress profession, and nobody likes to be criticized, especially when they’re the ones competing and have skin in the game,” added Bilas, who once coached under Coach K for three years during the early 1990s while earning his law degree at Duke. “I always tell coaches and officials, anyone, to call me when they differ. Tell me where I’m wrong and educate me on your position. That helps everyone understand each other. But, believe me, I’ve been on the other side of this, I get it. I’m not sensitive in the least.”
Bilas — who once appeared in an episode of the popular television series “The White Shadow” while in high school — was in Lexington recently when he worked as a member of the ESPN College GameDay crew, including Rece Davis and Digger Phelps, at the Kentucky-Missouri overtime game.
Asked if that SEC showdown at Rupp Arena was the loudest crowd that he had ever heard in his TV career, Bilas replied, “It was up there. Rupp is one of the great venues in sports. I love going there.”
He also added that “every moment at Rupp is memorable. I’ve enjoyed every event I’ve attended there. It’s a special place.”
By the way, as you may recall, he is the guy who sat on the opposing bench as an assistant coach against the Wildcats in arguably the greatest NCAA tournament game in history. That was back in 1992 when Duke’s Christian Laettner hit a desperation game-winning jumper to beat Rick Pitino’s Kentucky club 104-103 in the NCAA East Regional finals.
As for the 2013 NCAA tournament, Bilas unfortunately won’t be calling the games for CBS or other networks like he did in the past because of his contract with ESPN.
What are his thoughts on this year’s wide-open NCAA tournament? In other words, what should the readers expect in the Big Dance?
“If I knew what to expect, I’d go to Las Vegas and retire,” said Bilas in a half-joking manner. “That’s one thing that makes the tournament great, we never know what’s going to happen!”
As for Bilas’ book, it might be wise for the current Wildcat players to read and write a book report.
They won’t like it, but it might not be a bad idea.
The team perhaps will learn a thing or two about toughness.
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Jamie H. Vaught, a long-time sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.