Friday, April 4, 2008

Scientific Minutemen

The best game I saw live this season was when the UMass men’s basketball team played at Boston College on December 12. Yes, it was gratifying to be just behind the opponents’ encampment, within earshot of each squeal and squeak. But the satisfaction was not born from the seat proximity or even the competitiveness of the contest. It was not because the visitors had nearly five cats averaging double figures and threw on a full-court press with every opportunity. Not because the team’s turnover rate was one of the best in the nation. Or that it played at turbo speed with seven more three-point attempts per game than its opponents. Or even that it boasted two Boston University transfers whom I was impressed with when they were on Comm. Ave. The reason I enjoyed that game was because of what I witnessed oozing from the team’s soul: pure passion and support for one another. It was, in effect, human actions and reactions that created winners of this sort.

Whether the science stemmed from genuine personalities, observable loyal relationships, or fortuitous recruiting is not certain. Sometimes, team chemistry is planned. Other times, it just happens. My guess is Travis Ford and the rest of the coaching staff both nurtured and entertained nature the entire year, not just during this game. Their guys rooted for each other every minute. The bench was so buoyant that I thought an official was going to burst a warning for inappropriate enthusiasm!

The players who were not in the game were so focused on the action it was as if they were hurled into the post-season, already playing in a championship game. Each time a substitution occurred, the outgoing player was greeted with numerous hi-fives, compliments, and, yes, even full body clinching hugs, as if the congratulatory teammates were going to drain every ounce of their teammate’s energy before he was able to sit down.

Because of the Minutemen’s team liveliness, I became an instant fan. It’s no wonder they made it to the NIT finals. A collection of athletes who is talented, believes in the coach’s philosophy, and exemplifies the qualities of the UMass unit certainly has all of the elements necessary for success. In psychological terms, the team possessed both task cohesion and social cohesion. There was a clear vision for success often communicated, sometimes non-verbally, by group leaders that demanded everyone stay driven; and there existed clear unity among all team members that created a true family spirit, an openness among a breed of males that would be shunned in other realms of our society.

Though UMass recently fell short in the championship game of the NIT, I hope that others were able to understand its endowment of perhaps the most important statistic. Although the characteristic was not revealed in any box score or game recap, the team chemistry was off the charts and the squad should be applauded (while the next coach attempts to reinvent the science).


4114 said...

I never liked Travis Ford during his playing days (obviously cuz he was a Wildcat), but he must have been doing something right with that team. Kudos to UMass.

Dr. Oliver Eslinger said...

Ford has been very impressive. I especially liked that he had a letter posted on the UMass website the day after they lost in the NIT. It was a tribute to the fans.

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