We enjoy watching college basketball and for many years have followed the Gonzaga Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington. The “Zag’s” coach, Mark Few, (son of a Presbyterian minister) from Creswell, Oregon, joined the coaching staff at Gonzaga University in 1989 and became the head coach in 1999. We happened to be in Spokane for a “Christian Workers’ Conference” in March, 1999 when The Zags advanced to the “Elite Eight,” with wins over Minnesota, Stanford and Florida. Spokane sort of went “crazy” in celebration! The Zags lost out in the regional finals to eventual champion, U Conn, by only five points. In his 21-year tenure as head coach, Coach Few has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament each year, and has played in the “Final Four” as well as the championship game. They have also made it to the championship game of the West Coast Conference in each of those years. In 2016-17 the Zags began with a 29-game winning streak with a school record 37 wins for the season. Mark Few was named “National Coach of the Year” by the Associated Press. In Coach Few’s 21 years as head coach, the Zags set a record of 40 consecutive WCC wins and 31 consecutive road wins. Mark Few has the best winning percentage of any coach at 83.1% (610-124) overall and 90.4% (293-31) in conference. Many of the Zag’s players have gone on to play professional basketball.
Last season, the NCAA tournament ended up being cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but it looked like the Zags had the potential for possibly winning it all. They started this season with a number of exciting new players and are ranked #1 with a current record of 11-0, with wins over some very quality, power-conference teams. They are a very entertaining team to watch and are averaging a nation’s best–95 points per game.
So, what is the key to the success of the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball teams under Mark Few as head coach? Well, they do a great job of recruiting not only talented players from all over the world, but they also recruit “team players” who are willing to play unselfishly and help each other succeed. As we were watching one of their games this past week on ESPN, a commentator made this observation: “When you care about making other people better, it’s amazing what you can accomplish!”
I believe that is the key to the success of any team or organization, a willingness to make each other look good and succeed—not focusing primarily on yourself but on others and helping them improve and be successful. When a whole team is doing that, they will go far. Think about that in regard to the body of Christ, the Church and to local assemblies of believers. What would happen if we genuinely had that same philosophy, which—by the way—happens to be a very biblical one! Jesus, observing that the disciples were concerned about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom and who would have the most prestigious positions said to them: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42-45). Jesus demonstrated that when, before the Feast of the Passover in the Upper Room, he “rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about (like a servant)…and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (Jn. 13:4,5). Jesus went on to say to the Apostles: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (vv. 14,15). When the Apostle Paul wrote about the special abilities called “spiritual gifts” that God has given each believer, he emphasized that they are “for the common good” (I Cor. 11:7), i.e., they are not for self-edification but for the “growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). To the church at Philippi, Paul wrote: “Do nothing from selfishness, or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4). He goes on to speak of the epitome of humility, Jesus Christ who, as eternal God the Son, left the glory of heaven to become a man and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 6-8). Paul challenges us that we should have that same attitude (v. 5).
When we really care about others and about helping them succeed, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. Because Jesus Christ cared enough about us to leave heaven and become one of us and die in our place, we have available eternal life (Jn. 3:16) as well as abundant life (Jn. 10:10). “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
P.S. “Go Zags!