March Madness: Take the opportunity

My own version of March Madness began yesterday and while the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are in Buffalo this year, that event was not my assignment.

Instead, I was in Olean, covering the WNIT and a first-round match up between St. Bonaventure and Robert Morris.

The Bonnies rolled to a 76-50 win in a game that pretty much went the way imagined — a very motivated St. Bonaventure team ended up dominating a very good, but disinterested, Robert Morris team. It was a fear of the Robert Morris coaching staff all well. See, Robert Morris dominated its league in the regular season. It was prepared and focused on getting a berth in the NCAA tournament, the “Big Dance” so to speak. But when the Colonials were upset in their conference tournament semifinals, there too, went the NCAA bid.

The coaching staff tried to convince their team that the WNIT was nothing to scoff at. And I’m betting the players (sorry, student-athletes) said all the right things about being fortunate to still playing in March. But once St. Bonaventure grabbed a double-digit lead, Robert Morris seemed ready to pack it in for the season.

The Bonnies, on the other hand, could care less what initials are in front of the postseason tournament. It’s all March Madness to them. It’s all an opportunity and the team — both as a program and individually — has made its mark by taking advantage of whatever opportunity lies in front of them.

And amazing things can happen when you embrace your opportunities.

Take Tiara Johnson for instance. The senior guard has constantly battled injuries making her role on the team one that is more about vocal leadership, more about high energy in short amounts of playing time. She is not an offensive threat. She does not shoot the 3-pointer well. At all. In fact, in 31 previous games this season she went 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

But in Thursday night’s WNIT game, with the score still close in the first half, with the momentum of the game still in balance, Johnson stepped up and hit two 3-pointers. Not lucky heaves. Quality shots.

I believe I forgot to cover my mouth as I uttered the phrase, “Are you kidding me!?!” on press row.

In the official box score, Johnson’s six points look rather inconsequential, but in the context of the flow of the game, they were anything but routine.

It’s someone stepping outside of their normal comfort zone, someone seeing an opportunity, taking advantage of it, and making it work in a big way.

We all get those chances. Sometimes they’re in big-game situations. Other days, the actions seem small, practically inconsequential. They go unnoticed, sometimes even by ourselves.

But that’s one of the things we love about March Madness. It’s a chance to celebrate opportunity. In the theme song of the CBS coverage “One Shining Moment,” my favorite line is “In one shining moment you’re willing to try.”

Because so often in life we pass up the shot, we fail to take the opportunity.

It’s in trying that we not only reach our best selves, but have the most fun.

And sometimes, the effort sparks a postseason victory.

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