My beloved UNLV Runnin’ Rebels have not had the year we all hoped for, to say the least. But the thing I take away from the year is the importance of the team. Not team as in we all play on the same court (work in the same office), or team as in we all wear the same uniform (or name badge), or team as in we all work for the same coach (boss). But team as in we will do anything for each other, we support each other, we trust each other, we find our refuge in each other.
The Rebels could have mailed their season in. A sketchy but overall successful non-conference schedule had us all hoping this was the year they would break through in conference play, win the road games they were supposed to instead of finding ways to lose them, and make plays when they counted. Instead, they started 0-3, losing leads and losing several close games. Looking like they were playing nervous and scared. Playing individually instead of as a team.
A rare mid-season coaching change could have been an excuse to give up. But instead they played looser, looked like they were having fun, started making free throws and forcing each other to be accountable as a team.
Then a series of injuries gave them another out, with not much to play for and now hardly anyone to play (only six scholarship players healthy). But instead they got even more mentally tough. Derrick Jones, a young player who had struggled much of the year, started playing solid, not getting into foul trouble, taking defense more seriously, and again making free throws. Jerome Seagers, who many thought wasn’t the point guard they thought he would be, played with incredible heart on an injured foot and was a big part of us winning our last home game. Patrick McCaw played every minute including overtime against Reno, tying the game dramatically at the end of regulation. He kept his head down and led by example. Jordan Cornish, a sophomore who hasn’t shot as well as he would like all year and is a 6’5” guard, played center!
Everyone stepped up, bought into the team, supported each other, decided that giving up was not what they were going to do collectively. They didn’t win every game down the stretch, but they played hard, as a team. They fought. They made the most of the opportunity, even though it wasn’t the situation they expected or wanted. They learned invaluable lessons that will benefit them forever.
We can all learn from this team. I know I will never forget this team. I hope I can inspire the teammates around me to do what these Rebels did. We won’t win every time, but we will be proud to work together, and have experiences we will never forget. After all, life is a team sport.