This week begins the 2019-2020 college basketball season. Pre-season experts have dubbed Michigan State the #1 ranked team. Followed by Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville.
Last year’s NCAA Champion, the Virginia Cavaliers, are ranked #11 But their coach, Tony Bennett, ought to be ranked #1 in terms of character, priorities, and values.
Bennett did something in the offseason that few of us would ever do. He declined a “substantial” raise, so the money could be used to increase salaries for his staff and make other improvements to UVA sports programs.
“I have more than enough,” Bennett said, “and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”
“Tony’s decision…tells you everything you need to know about him as a leader and as a human being,” university president Jim Ryan said. “Tony is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and this is just the latest example.”
Bennett has built his program, as well as his life, around Biblical principles he calls “The Five Pillars of Life.”
Following their thrilling overtime victory in last season’s campion game, Bennett told his players. “Promise me you will remain humble and thankful for this. Don’t let this change you. It doesn’t have to.”
Humility is a difficult virtue to define. And harder yet to apply when we’ve reached a pinnacle of material, professional or personal success. But Rick Warren’s definition helps: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Bennett understands the Biblical admonition, “Be clothed with humility, for
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet 5:5).
We know that passion is important to be a winner in the sports world. Sometimes a color commentator will speak of a player who possesses a lot of ability, but say, “He’s not playing with passion.”
Passion, however, is not limited to sports, but is necessary for life. In fact, it’s a Biblical principle. This ancient Preacher advised, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl 9:10). And the apostle Paul admonished servants, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).
God calls for us to do our best. Work hard. Be enthusiastic about life. Give our all to everything we do. And to glorify Him as we demonstrate a zeal that is often lacking in our lackadaisical world.
Teamwork is essential for success, not just in sports, but in every endeavor in life. Our homes. Our churches. Our communities.
Spiritually our commonality in Christ builds community and unity. Many passages in the New Testament that include the phrase “one another” speak to the means, manner and method of building and bonding as unified members of His Body.
The church could learn a lot from the sports world about teamwork. Working together. Subjugating individual egos for the greater good. Each person using their talents to contribute to the team’s success.
Bennett has tapped into a Biblical virtue that is often missing in the sports world of inflated egos. The willingness to serve. To give of one’s self. To be subservient for the greater good.
Ironically, we often lead by serving. You don’t need a title. Or occupy a position. Or be team captain to be a servant-leader.
The Savior summed it up succinctly when he said, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” (Matt 20:26-27).
“In everything, give thanks,” exhorted the Apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:18).
Yes, everything. Every blessing. Every success. Every achievement. Every person. Every dollar. Every possession. Whether a little or a lot. Everything and everyone that adds to the quality of our life, both physically and spiritually.
If money is both “a test and a trust from God,” then Coach Bennett seems to have passed the test and is worthy of the trust.
In a culture obsessed with success, money and material things, it’s good to remember some things are more important.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman