When the news of VCUs #22 AP ranking--the first regular season national ranking since 1985--hit my computer screen, my mind immediately reached backwards. Not to 1985, VCUs last national ranking. Not to 1986, my freshman year on campus. Not to any moment from those good old days nor to any moment from the not-so-good old days.
No, my mind offered up Friday March 16, 2007, standing in front of the wondrous beauty
of Niagara Falls with my then-girlfriend (now fiance). There was snow on
the ground and ice crystals outlined the torrent of water. Keats would have a field day with that scene.
I wrapped my arms around her as tightly as I could through the layers of clothing and looked her square in the eyes, gently pushing hair back off her face, and with all the emotion and romance I could muster said the three words neither one of us thought possible but now was unavoidable. I leaned in and whispered, ever-so gently into her ear:
"We beat Duke."
Let's live in the moment and relish this ranking. To deprive yourself this joy, even until Thursday night at 9:02pm, is a mistake. You don't know what happens next--that last ranking was about 28 years ago. Here's why I'm going to soak it up: if VCU experiences another 28-year drought between rankings, I will be 72 years old the next time we're ranked. Or dead. I don't know about you, but I'm opening a Stella or three tonight.
Besides, the whole "that's great but it doesn't mean anything midseason" and "I'll be impressed when we're ranked at the end of the year" is for Shaka Smart and the locker room. Yes, we all want the team to keep improving and slowly work our way up the rankings, but don't be a sour puss. That's an obvious goal. Smart has it covered.
"I think it’s a testament to the progress that the program has made going back several years, way before I came to VCU. It’s all about the players; they’re the ones that win the games. As coaches, we’ve been fortunate to have a great group of guys and it says a lot about our guys and the work they’ve put in so far. However, the key for us is that we’re right in the absolute middle point of our season, so we don’t want to be satisfied. We appreciate that our fans and everyone is fired up about the ranking, but in the end, we all have to be focused on getting better each time we step on the court."
Don't cheat yourself as a fan based on some notion of satisfaction that doesn't actually apply. Nobody is satisfied now, just as nobody was satisfied when we beat Duke. That's why the program continued its upward arc. Nobody stopped working hard. If they did, they weren't around long.
And that's the point of this entry. It's entirely possible to be both celebratory and humble. I can argue that celebrating milestones is part of continuing to improve. You have to be able to handle success in the proper manner in order find bigger and better success. Those grounding principles of handling success--resisting a sense of entitlement, continuing to work to move forward--are the bedrock of not resting on any accomplishment.
It's like the hotshot salesman. He kills it; has a great year. His boss calls him into the office and lays it on the line:
"You had a great year so I'm giving you a promotion. Your compensation has been tripled and you get a company car. However this year you have to produce at the same level or better or I'm taking it all back."
That's the lesson: we can celebrate but not rest on our laurels. There is a new kind of motivation because this success doesn't come without a price. That arc--from Duke to the Final Four to 22-0 over Mason to right now--dispels the notion of the underdog. Ranked teams are the overdogs, the hunted, the very program we are becoming. It's part of progress and that's something else I will celebrate tonight.So just as Duke was a watershed moment it was the first of more. We celebrated that moment and gave it its due. Give this ranking its due, and go back to work tomorrow making the program better.