“Success is often the first step toward disaster.”
- Pat Riley, from his book, “Showtime”, talking about a phrase he coined, the “Disease of More”.
I am a University of Northern Colorado student. At 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, my roommates asked if we should go to the Bears game that night against an NAIA opponent, the Westminster College Griffins. After a few seconds of deliberation, we all unanimously decided against it. We believed that with the opposition being a school that we had never heard of until UNC’s schedule came out at the end of summer, mixed with final exams starting next week, our time could be better spent.
So I went to the library to study, keeping up with the score on my phone. I noticed at halftime, the Griffins held a 32-29 edge over the Bears. “The Bears just came out sloppy, they will take care of business in the second half,” I thought to myself. About 30 minutes later, I checked the score again, and saw Westminster had taken a 16-point lead with 4 minutes left.
A couple minutes after that, I looked at my phone again, only to see this:
Westminster (UT) 73 Northern Colorado 60 FINAL.
I left the library. I needed to clear my head.
You see, last year’s run of winning the conference and advancing to the NCAA Tournament was the stuff made of dreams. All of it still seems like a blur eight months later. When I decided to come to the University of Northern Colorado in 2008, the school was mired in the middle of their Division I transition. There wasn’t a lot of school spirit on campus, because it’s tough to get inspired over athletic teams that were being beaten handily by opponents that were bigger, faster, and stronger than us.
Flash forward to last season. Tad Boyle had done one of the most incredible coaching jobs in the nation to have Northern Colorado poised to make a big run for the conference title before he left to take the job at the University of Colorado. B.J. Hill, who had been Boyle’s right hand man through the climb from the bottom to the top, guided the Bears to that fairy tale journey that culminated on that Wednesday night in early March at Butler-Hancock, when UNC defeated Montana to take the conference crown, and go to The Dance.
Now, in present day, we are here. A night in which the Bears suffered their most discouraging, most embarrassing loss since the initial days of the Division I transition.
This is where Pat Riley’s “Disease of More” comes in. Life is filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Sometimes those peaks come to us at an early time in our careers, when there is still work to be done in the future. Six players (Mike Proctor, Elliott Lloyd, Paul Garnica, Tate Unruh, Emmanuel Addo and Connor Osborne) all played valuable minutes in last year’s title team. No matter what, they will always have “Big Sky Champions” tied to their name. They could lose every game for the rest of their career, but they will still have that honor tied to them forever.
But, their jobs aren’t done, they still have eligibility remaining. The only thing more difficult in life than reaching success is duplicating that same success all over again.
The “Disease of More” is what keeps coaches awake at night. As Riley put it, after a championship of any sort; guys want more playing time, more shots, more respect. But in doing so, they forget the essence of what made the season prior so special and so successful. I’m not necessarily trying to diagnose this “disease” on this UNC team, but there appears to be early symptoms of it showing up in December.
The six aforementioned returning players can bask in that 2010-2011 season all they want when their careers are over. But for now, there is work to do. There are nine newcomers to this team who want to go through those same peaks that they didn’t get to experience first-hand a year ago, newcomers who are looking for that leadership to take them to the top. Three-and-a-half weeks into the regular season, it has yet to show up.
The veterans on this Northern Colorado team have to ask themselves, how will I be remembered here? As a player who was on that one NCAA Tournament team and settled after that? Or the player who made the University of Northern Colorado a successful, revered program year-in and year-out?
That’s what’s at stake here for these Bears. They will have a few weeks to shake free this debacle and gear up for the official start of conference play, and that is when everyone will find out who they really are. And maybe, just maybe, they can flip some words around in Pat Riley’s iconic phrase around to being:
“Disaster is the first step toward success.”
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