We are excited to see the Fresno State men’s basketball team qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. And like many in the Valley, we are crossing our fingers that the Bulldogs can upset a Utah team led by star forward Jakob Poeltl Thursday in Denver.
But our enthusiasm for the Bulldogs and their coach, Rodney Terry, is rooted in much more than the obvious successes of a 25-9 record, a Mountain West Conference Tournament championship and a nine-game winning streak to close the regular season.
Terry, a Texas native who is in his fifth season at Fresno State, provides us with a reminder that old-fashioned virtues are the foundation for long-term success.
He is humble, hardworking and doesn’t believe in shortcuts. He holds his players accountable for their actions on and off the court. Never, in our judgment, has he exhibited the win-at-all-costs mentality that inevitably embarrasses universities and communities – and today is threatening the integrity of college athletics.
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Many college coaches, especially when visiting the homes of potential recruits, talk up character development and academics. But, when their big salaries and win-loss records are on the line, they ignore the fact that talented players aren’t hitting the books or staying out of trouble.
Terry, however, has made clear his commitment to, as he says, seeing “young men grow.” Translation: He is as much in the people business as he is in the basketball business. That’s how it should be at every level of youth, high school and college athletics
“They’re like my own sons,” Terry told The Bee’s Marek Warszawski. “I don’t have any kids myself right now, so ... every day I live for those guys and I live through those guys, and just to make a difference in their lives is the most important thing for me.”
Beyond that, it’s apparent that Terry and his assistants place extra importance on getting their players to buy into the team-first concept. On Feb. 3, the Bulldogs inexplicably lost a road game to a less-talented San Jose State team.
It was a miserable performance that created a make-or-break point for Fresno State. Three days later, the Bulldogs gutted out a double-overtime victory over Nevada-Las Vegas and backed that up by knocking off perennial conference kingpin San Diego State, 58-57. And now they’re just the sixth Fresno State team to taste the sweet nectar of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior guard Marvelle Harris, the Mountain West player of the year and conference tournament most valuable player, is the heart and soul of the Bulldogs. But a host of other players have contributed mightily to the team’s success. Indeed, you never know who will come through in the clutch – one game it’s Cullen Russo, another game it’s Karachi Edo, Julien Lewis or Cesar Guerrero. That’s the beauty of the Bulldogs. They’re a team, not a collection of individuals, as often is the case in college basketball.
It’s 100 times easier to chart a successful path for an athletic team than it is to unify a diverse region behind a political and economic plan that increases prosperity and elevates the quality of life.
But our political leaders would be wise to incoporate some of what has taken Terry and his team to the NCAA Tournament: Be humble, set high standards, be resilient and think long term.