My initiation into Nova Nation began on April 1, 1985. I was awoken by my father's screams and the spray of the champagne. It was April Fools' Day, but the celebratory wake-up call was no joke: Villanova had just defeated the highly-favored Georgetown Hoyas for the coveted NCAA men's basketball title.
I was 5 years old at the time, but the memory would begin a lifelong love affair for my beloved Wildcats. My father, a Villanova alum, purchased seasons tickets, which required a four-hour roundtrip car ride to each game, every season. Villanova became a part of me. I still have a letter from Rollie Massimino, the coach of the '85 champions, telling me to study hard so that one day, I too, would go to Villanova. He was right.
So, the moment wasn't lost on me as I put my own 5-year-old daughter to bed before I joined my dad, and dog, Lowry (yes named after former Villanova point guard, now NBA star, Kyle Lowry), to watch Villanova play for the national championship last night. Three hours later, I returned to her bedroom, whispered "we won" and kissed her on the cheek. As she slept soundly, I wondered if this victory would change the path she might choose, as it did for me.
But this victory was different for me. I wasn't a kid watching a fanatical game; I grew up in this culture. I was invested. I knew this team inside and out in the way only lifelong fans do as they watch a coach, and team, evolve. It came to me that Villanova basketball's culture offered lessons that I can pass on to my daughter -- not about winning a championship, but what it means to be a champion.
It's about family
As a kid, those lengthy car rides to the Main Line with my dad meant a steady heartbeat of blessed father-daughter time that I looked forward to, even relished. Then, as I graduated from Villanova, the friends I made there became as close as family and now we are watching our children grow up together. That thread that started from Villanova's basketball program became a tie that has bound us together.
The Villanova tradition has also been embraced and enriched by current coach, Jay Wright, who preaches to his players, "we play for those who came before us." The tie that binds, the accountability to each other and the standards to which we must rise, forms the foundation for lifetime relationships.
Never give up
In the 31 years between championships, we've endured the lows of bad calls, missed shots, and missed tournaments throughout the years. Yet the Villanova community never gave up on the dedication that we have for this program. Similarly, as life has dealt family and friends the highs of marriages and babies and the lows of loss and tragedy that can test even the sturdiest of relationships, we maintained our bonds. Never giving up in the face of an "unfair call" and celebrating together when we "hit a key shot."
Know when to pass the ball
On Monday, with less than five seconds on the clock, Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono had to make a decision to take the last potential championship-winning shot or pass the ball to junior Kris Jenkins instead. The character it must have taken to pass to a teammate who had a better look is something many of us are challenged with every day. His trust in Jenkins would pay off as the forward nailed the improbable buzzer-beater to down North Carolina for good.
So often we pass up opportunities to help someone else shine when we want to grab the light for ourselves. But what makes a true champion is building up those around you, which simultaneously lifts you up, even if it wasn't the way you imagined it to be. If we "passed the ball" a bit more, imagine what levels could be reached together as a team.
So when my daughter hears me regale about the glorious season of 2016, I hope she knows these stories aren't just memories of one special season, but life lessons to last a lifetime.