Discouraged by poor performance, I almost gave up on basketball my senior year at Duke.  Coach K took me aside and showed me that only I could be accountable for how I played and my attitude toward my performance and the team.  Instead of quitting, I made the decision to follow through and work harder, thereby realizing my dream of playing and winning on an NCAA championship team.  Read more for my story…

Through hard work and the support of my family, teammates and coach, I met my high school goal of winning a NY State Championship and becoming a McDonalds All American and NYS Mr. Basketball.  I accepted a full scholarship to Duke University to play for legendary coach, Mike Krzyzewski.  My expectation was to continue my All-American status at Duke as an integral part of a championship team, but my first three years playing for Duke did not go as planned.  Instead of being played as a starter and being more involved in the offense, I found myself sitting on the bench more than playing. Senior year was my last chance to realize my basketball dreams.  Coach K had told us  about past Duke players stepping up to the challenge their senior year and I wanted to be one of those players. I worked extremely hard during the off-season to put myself in the best possible position to do just that.

With Coach John Wooden at the 1987 McDonald's All-American game.

With Coach John Wooden at the 1987 McDonald’s All-American game.

When practice started in the Fall of 1990, I had a chance to prove myself against heralded freshman, Grant Hill. I tried to force Grant baseline but he took the ball down the middle right past me and ended the drive by dunking over some of my teammates. Needless to say, Grant got the starting job and I was coming off the bench playing limited minutes, my confidence dropping with every game.  The last straw came in the December 1990 game at Oklahoma, right before Christmas break, where for the first time in my basketball career, I did not play at all.  I had enough and wanted to quit.

After Christmas break I approached Coach K to let him know of my intentions to quit the team.  I blamed him for not giving me the chance to prove myself.  I will never forget that moment.  Coach K looked me right in the eyes and said, “Brian Davis, Thomas Hill, Billy McCaffery, Grant Hill, and all the other players on the team are playing better than you. That is why you are not playing, not because I am not giving you a chance. You have a chance to prove yourself every day in practice and everyone is playing better than you.” He went on to say, “I believe in you, but you need to stop blaming me for not playing you and take responsibility. Greg, we are going to need you this season, so you need to get your head on straight and start focusing on competing in practice.” Even though those words were tough to swallow, I needed someone like Coach K, who I had so much respect for, to tell me the truth and show me that he still believed in me. In addition, my best friend and teammate, Clay Buckley, encouraged me to keep working instead of giving up

After that moment, my perspective cleared: it was as if a light had gone on that has never turned off. I stopped blaming others and took responsibility to completely commit myself to the team regardless of playing time. I worked out more and  practiced my shot before and after practice. Little did I know that the best basketball was still ahead, for me and for the team.

A few games later, Coach K put me in against UNC and I helped the team win by scoring 9 points and grabbing 6 rebounds during a very important stretch.  After that I got the starting job against LSU in a matchup with Christian Laettner, playing against the best big man in the country, Shaquille O’Neal. We won that game and continued our winning streak through the season.  A few games later, I lost my starting job but remained focused and ready to help out the team in any way possible. We lost to UNC in the ACC Finals by over 20 points, which reminded us of the humiliating defeat we had against UNLV in the 1990 Finals. This game was different for me, because I did not give up even though we were getting killed.  I competed until the very end and scored my career high of 21 points.  As a result, I earned back the starting job for the entire NCAA tournament, alongside Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill.

March Madness was here and we blew by our first four opponents by an average of 19 points. I picked up Chevrolet Player of The Game against UConn in the Sweet Sixteen. We were headed back to our fourth consecutive Final Four with a chance to win Duke’s first ever National Championship. That title would not come easy.  We faced UNLV that boasted Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon and Greg Anthony – basically the same team that killed us by 30 points in the 1990 Finals, still the most lopsided victory in tournament finals history. We went on to beat them in a very close game and won Duke’s first National Championship by beating Kansas in the finals. It was an amazing feeling to be part of something so much bigger than me.

Shooting over George Ackles of UNLV in the 1991 Final Four.

Shooting over George Ackles of UNLV in the 1991 Final Four.

If I did not change my mental approach to the game, I would not have accomplished the following:

  • Member of Duke’s first National Championship Team in 1991
  • First Player in NCAA history to play in Four Final Fours – 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991
  • Played professional overseas in Hungary, Turkey, Japan, and South Africa
  • Started Koubek Basketball Camps, Inc in 1991 with my brother Tim. Camps are still going and have impacted over 10,000 campers and coaches.
  • Most importantly, I would not have the fulfilling and loving relationships that I have with my wife, Natalie and our kids Helena, Olivia, and Cassius.

 

More than the accomplishments, it was the lessons learned through this process that I continue to draw upon when faced with challenges:

  1. Team Comes First: When I put the team’s success ahead of my own personal success, I became part of something much bigger than myself.
  2. Responsibility: I stopped blaming others for my personal failures. My actions matter as do the actions of my teammates and coaches.
  3. Mental Toughness: When things are not going my way, I can change the way I think or view a situation.  Attitude determines success.
  4. Honesty: Coach K was not only brutally honest with me but he communicated in a way that was caring and inspirational.
  5. Belief In Others:  Coach K: “In all forms of leadership, whether you are a coach, a CEO, or a parent, there are four words that can bring out the best in your team, your employees, and your family…I BELIEVE IN YOU. These four words can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try.” Those four words certainly made a difference in my life.

Not a day goes by, where I don’t remember these lessons and apply them to my everyday life at home, work, or play.

What is your Follow Thru Moment?  Please email koubek@mac.com with your inspiring story.