Keep Shooting The Ball
Jerry Walls

Arguably, the most exciting weekend in sports is the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. Upsets often abound. When they do, dreams are fulfilled for some, while others experience wrenching disappointment, as the 64 teams are reduced to 16 in four wild days.

What was to me one of the most memorable upsets in the past few years was that of Butler over Wake Forest, a game which produced the incredible halftime score of 43-10. Although Wake Forest stormed back in the second half, they still lost by a large margin. The game also marked the end of Robert O'Kelley's college career, an oustanding guard for Wake. As usual, O'Kelley played a great game, scoring 20 points in the loss.

That years contest reminded me of another Wake Forest game from the previous season in which O'Kelley demonstrated one of the keys to success both on and off the court. Wake was playing North Carolina, a team to whom they had lost the last six games, and The Demon Deacons were once again behind the TarHeels in that game by a significant margin. As his team fell behind, O'Kelley missed his first eleven shots. Still, his coach, Dave Odom, urged him to stay on track. "Keep shooting," Odom said.

"I told him to keep shooting and it will happen. A lot of players would have lost their courage and stopped shooting. He didn't." The coach was right. And O'Kelley's couragous persistence payed off. He hit six of his final shots and scored 18 points, all in the second half, to lead his team to an unlikely 66-57 comeback victory over the favored Carolina.

Kelley's 0-11 shooting is something that all of us can identify with. The issue is how we will respond in the face of initial failures and setbacks. Notice that a form of courage is what we need. The personal confidence that facilitates any sort of success is not just a matter of bravado, but often involves the real challenge of having the courage to keep shooting and taking the risk of continued failure. In public. In front of our friends, and in full view of those who might gloat over our troubles.

The courage to take that risk is an essential component in eventual success. Not every game is guaranteed to be a dramatic victory, as O'Kelley's more recent, final turn in a Wake Forest uniform shows. But our best chance at winning always involves persistence in the face of adversity. My guess is that O'Kelley will do fine in the bigger game of life. I doubt that he will stop shooting the first time he fails at something, or the eleventh. Or the twelfth.

Keep shooting and something good will happen.


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