It is a powerful word, “team.” In the early years, during second or third grade, we are assigned to a team in gym class. Young feet begrudgingly run up and down the gymnasium floor, praying for the madness to end. A few love it. They get a taste for competition, and the sweetness of victory is greater than the bitterness of defeat. Nobody likes to lose, and those who turn to a life of competition like it less than most, but it doesn’t stop them. That is what makes a champion—the love of the game, more than the loathing of the pain.
It is but a few who know what it is like to be chosen by a university. By the time high school ends, most are done with team sports. It is on to school or work, starting a family, and turning their competitive juices towards fandom. It may not be as fun as playing, but cheering is a close second. The fastest, strongest, and hardest workers get asked to compete at the college level and often are rewarded with scholarships. The first-year players learn from the older ones, and strangers become teammates. Over time, they become friends. Success and winning come not only from having talent, but also from the bond between the players. If one truly cares about his teammates, he will find ways to push beyond what he thought was possible. When those bonds form, they last for life.
Roy’s high school coach, Moses Lacy, who went 27–0 and won the state title in 1985 for Flint’s “Buc-Town” Beecher High School, told Roy once, “In order to be a great player, you must be a great teammate first.”
Roy’s phone rings and he checks the number, “Yo, Mike Mo.”
Michael Morgan, an assistant coach with the University of Iowa Women’s basketball team for the last seven years, was part of the 1986 team. He received the most “Most Dedicated Player Award” that year and made the most of his college years getting a bachelors degree in communications studies. As they talk, first about family and kids, then about basketball, Morgan says something and Roy laughs.
“Mike, you remember the trip to China?”
“You aren’t still laughing about that,” he says.
The team was touring and, on a day off, got to do some sightseeing. You can’t go to China without seeing the Great Wall, so that was high on the list of places the team wanted to see. While taking photos, Michael slipped and broke the lens on his camera. Michael wasn’t injured, so it seemed fine to give him a hard time about it. It would have probably been forgotten had it not been for Kent Hill’s comment on the flight home, “Mike Mo fell off the Great Wall of China,” he said, recounting the highlights of their trip. Everyone laughed, and it became one of those stories that guys tell over and over again, and, for a moment, recapture those wonderful days of college.
They talk a while longer. Roy mentions the Alaska shootout, and they both agree it was a great way to start the season. One last check to ask Michael if there are any new stories to pass along, and then he hangs up. To tell the old stories again keeps them alive and makes it a special time.
Roy remembers Michael as a friend and a teammate, but mainly he remembers how hard Mike Mo would push him in practice. It is one thing to work as hard as you think you can, but another to have someone you trust saying you can go harder. When Michael got minutes and Roy was on the bench, there wasn’t anyone cheering him on louder. Michael made Roy a better player, and to this day he is thankful.