I'm not sure which of my coaches at Gannon made that statement. "Respect the game." It might have been Ruby, Reilly, or Rorie (Pugliese) -- maybe all of them said it at one time or another. Dukiet, Chapman, and Kalbugh echoed the same sentiment. Above all, respect the game. Examples of disrespecting the game include not playing hard, goofing around during a game, and playing selfishly. If you're not hungry to play your best, then get off the freaking court so someone else can give an honest effort.
For those who witnessed Gannon's season-concluding 81-68 victory over Clarion Saturday at the Hammermill, you saw only one team who respected the game. (For a hint of who that was, check the scoreboard.)
To illustrate my point, let me share with you a conversation that was overheard between two Clarion players during a first-half substitution yesterday:
Player Checking In: "Where are you at?"
Player On The Court: "Who cares?"
Player Checking In: "I hear ya."
That craptastic attitude aligns with what I saw from other Golden Eagles yesterday -- getting beat down the floor repeatedly, laughing despite a 20-point deficit, getting beat down the floor repeatedly, slowly walking off the court when substituted for, getting beat down the floor repeatedly, not paying attention during timeouts, getting beat down the floor repeatedly, hogging the ball instead of running the offense, and getting beat down the floor repeatedly. That one statement was repeated for effect because it led to Gannon's 50-point, 65%-shooting outburst in the first half. The Knights didn't suddenly become an offensive juggernaut without some help from Clarion.
I don't mean to turn this into a flogging of the Golden Eagles. It just fries me to see guys with so much God-given ability waste it, even if for just one game. I would have killed to play 20 minutes in one college game, even if it was "meaningless" according to the conference standings.
Gannon played Saturday like they were still alive for a postseason berth. Every Knight who received playing time hustled, defended, rebounded, and passed the ball. They tried to take charges, sacrificing their body for the team. Even the guys who didn't play were intense. They rooted for their teammates on both ends of the floor. Why did the Gannon players care so much more than their Clarion counterparts?
Simple. Because John Reilly and his relentless coaching staff have the utmost respect for the game, and they've inculcated that belief into their players. I know there's been a lot of debate this season regarding Reilly's recruiting, substitution pattern, and offensive game plan. But he undeniably possesses the two most important fundamentals for a basketball coach:
1. Deeply care about the integrity of the game and about your players as students, athletes, and human beings.
2. Get your players to care, too. Make sure they play like madmen every drill and every game possession.
The Knights didn't make the playoffs this year, but they certainly respected the game from the season's opening tip to its final possession. (Why else did Riles call timeout with 20 seconds left and a 15-point lead?). Having respect for the game will pay dividends for the Gannon program in future seasons, including next year.