Rick McDaniel: UVA went from worst to first – Here’s how to overcome a setback

A year ago, the University of Virginia men's basketball team suffered the worst loss in NCAA tournament history. They were the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed. UVA was bounced out of the tournament in the very first round.

Last night just before midnight they defeated Texas Tech and won the NCAA College Basketball National Championship. One year later UVA is the best team in college basketball. They overcame a huge setback and have had a legendary comeback.

How did they do it? How can you literally go from the worst defeat to the greatest victory? And if they did it then there is hope that anyone can overcome whatever setback they may experience.

Take full responsibility

Right after last year’s historic loss to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County coach Tony Bennett simply stated, “We got our butts kicked.” He didn’t try to make excuses even though his best player De’Andre Hunter missed the game due to injury.

UVA lost by 20 points it wasn’t even a close game. Coach Bennett took full responsibility for the loss. He calmly acknowledged the obvious – they didn’t deserve to win the game. And their loss was an incredible upset.

To be successful you must take full responsibility for your life. When you experience a setback, you have to own the part you played in what happened. It’s easy to make excuses or look for someone else to blame. But to have a comeback you give up complaining and face reality.

Look for the lesson

Coach Bennett knew he had to dissect the defeat. How could one of the best teams in college basketball lose to a team no one had even heard of? So, during the summer Bennett and his coaching staff installed a new offense that capitalizes on the diverse abilities of its players.

The new offensive sets allow for more freedom. Bennett changed the offense from the blocker-mover to the motion offense or what they call “flow.” The roles are less defined and any player can be a scorer not just set screens. It’s a popular and successful offense in college basketball. The result is UVA’s offensive efficiency, which ranked number 30 last year jumped all the way to number two.

In order to have a comeback, you have to look for the lesson. Maybe you failed to plan, made bad decisions or ignored timeless biblical wisdom. Many try to push the setback behind them as quickly as possible, which is why some go from setback to setback. Before you run from it, bury it or try to stop thinking about it – look for the lesson.

Embrace the adversity

At the press conference after last year’s loss, Bennett was already planting the seeds for a comeback. He quoted Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” His strong Christian faith had grounded him the reality that we all face tests, trials and tribulations. But we can overcome.

Bennett has said that the setback made the team bond in a special way. It made him closer to his family and his faith. Through such adversity, he gained wisdom not just about basketball but about life. He said, “Adversity is maybe the greatest teacher, even though it’s not enjoyable.”

God can use the tough, difficult, challenging experiences of life for the good if we can embrace it. When we face adversity head on there is an opportunity to learn from it. What can you learn from your divorce, the loss of your job, the health problems you are having? When you learn and make the necessary changes you turn your setback into a comeback.

Have forward focus

Bennett had his team watch a TEDx talk by Donald Davis a retired Methodist minister. He told the story of severely slicing his leg with an ax at five years old and losing his kneecap. His message was, “You don’t get past it by hiding from it. You only get past it by labeling it and going straight at it. And crawling out from under it until eventually, you sit on top of it.”

UVA did not ignore the UMBC loss, they didn’t make it the focus but they framed it. They chose to handle it the right way. To emerge from under the stone of the defeat. To use it to focus on their comeback. And hopefully, sit on top of the college basketball world.

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A comeback cannot happen when you dwell on the past. If you focus on your setbacks, you have more setbacks. You need laser-like forward focus. You can get past the setback. And it happens with a vision of a new and better future. Your forward focus will not allow a setback position any longer.

Who could have predicted such an amazing comeback story? It reads like something out of Hollywood. But it’s true. UVA overcame a devastating setback to win their first College Basketball National Championship. And it inspires us to believe we can have a marvelous comeback too.

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