We know that there is no “I” in the word team.
But there is one in the word “win.”
Ask any standout athlete, or even get the diehard fan to start talking about their sport of choice, and many of them will laud their favorite sport as the ultimate team sport.
Interview a coach, and they’ll insist that no one player is bigger than the team. No one part is greater than the sum. And most players have been duly trained to say the same thing.
But is it really true?
Off the record though, several Southern Crescent hoops teams may want to consider changing the way they spell team. Either that, or they may just opt to use an entirely different word altogether.
Not that I’m promoting selfish basketball or self-centered sportsmanship. I’m just trying to, as the young people say, keep it real.
And the real truth is this — you can have all the team unity, team toughness and team mentality you want, but every now and then an “I” needs to rise up in order for a team to be ultimately successful.
Ask the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s where their team would be without a Michael Jordan. Remember how right in the middle of the Bulls first trio of NBA Championships, Jordan decided to step aside? His supremely gifted sidekick Scottie Pippen assumed Jordan’s place as go-to player, but could not duplicate his success.
They missed their “I.”
For all of the Falcons fans who were/are hurting from last Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, consider this: Matt Ryan strained his shoulder in the waning moments of that game. What if the Falcons won? What if Ryan’s shoulder didn’t heal in time? What if Luke McCown was your starting quarterback against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens’ vaunted defense in Super Bowl 47?
Just one guy, right? But how many of you would have given the Falcons a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy?
Right. Not much shot without the Falcons’ “I.”
So let’s do a couple of contrast comparisons. First up, the Forest Park Lady Panthers. After the graduation of three-year starter and team leading scoring Ashlee Cole last season, Forest Park struggled to find scoring — and consistent leadership. Tiffany Wilson was just getting her knee — injured last season — back in playing shape. Sophomore post players Kanisha Tharpe and Breasia McElrath were still learning consistency at this level.
And Forest Park was 8-6. Enter junior guard, and unquestionable team leader Kayla Potts who came back Jan. 8 against Ola. The result?
Six straight wins. Her scoring, defense and leadership at the point has made all the difference for Forest Park in part two of this season.
On the flip side, remember Mundy’s Mill’s Brianna McQueen from last season? The high-scoring guard often put the Tigers on her back and carried them to a 21-7 overall record, and a 16-3 mark, good for third in a tough Region 4-AAAA.
McQueen is now at East Tennessee State. And Mundy’s Mill (13-8, 6-5) has already lost more games this season than it did all of last season. Not a bad season, but much different without their “I.”
Let’s examine North Clayton and the all-everything Marcus Hunt who is now a standout freshman at Georgia Tech. A couple of weeks ago, the Eagles scored just 39 points against Jonesboro —their lowest total in the last seven seasons.
Hunt’s senior season was filled with a couple of games where he scored more than that by himself — including a 40 point performance in the state semifinals that single-handedly kept North Clayton in the game against Southwest Dekalb.
This year, North Clayton is struggling at 11-9, but with an 8-4 region mark they still have life as we inch closer toward the postseason.
That life is just not as certain to last as long without an “I” player.
So you see, the “I” player is not necessarily selfish, but is often the difference between good and great. Between challenger and champion.
An “I” player is merely the one who says “I” will take the last shot. “I” will make the key defensive stop. “I” will guard the opponent’s best scorer. “I” will handle the ball against the press. “I” will be the go to player when we just have to have bucket.
The “I” is not bigger than the team. But the “I” can help define the team at times where it needs defining the most.
And most teams without an “I” never can find an answer to the crunch time question, “who?”
Gabriel Stovall is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1