Column: A little hustle can go along way

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 19, 1998

By / L’Observateur / January 19, 1998>

Tuesday night’s game between Hahnville and East St. John was one of themost thrilling of the season with the Tigers pulling out a 60-58 victory atthe end. And though 118 points were scored in the game, the biggest playof the contest did not come on offense.

With 14 seconds left and the Tigers holding onto a 57-56 lead, Hahnville’sCyril Thomas knocked the ball loose from the man he was defending alongthe left sideline. Thomas lept after the ball as it was going out of boundsand knocked it off the leg of a Wildcat player. Hahnville regainedpossession and put the game away when Dernell Murray hustled into thelane to tip in a missed free throw.

In another game this season, I saw West St. John’s Adair Alexander dive tothe floor to force a jump ball with 10 seconds left and his team holding a20-plus lead.

That is the kind of hustle that wins games and ultimately decideschampionships. It also draws fans to the games and allows even thebiggest underdogs to rise to great things.

Who saw it can forget North Carolina State’s amazing run to the NCAAchampionship under Jimmy Valvano in 1983? Or Villanova’s improbablevictory over Georgetown in the 1985 championship game? Or morerecently, Arizona scraping to victories over Kansas, North Carolina andKentucky, all number one seeds, to win the 1997 championship?

I remember the 1985-86 LSU Tigers, a team less talented than both itspredecessors and successors. But few teams had more heart. This was theteam of Derrick Taylor and Don Redden, of Ricky Blanton and Jose Vargasand of John Williams and Bernard Woodside to name just a few.

These players overcame adversity to advance to the NCAA tournament,where they knocked off first Purdue, then Memphis State on AnthonyWilson’s dramatic put back at the buzzer, followed by victories overhigher seeds Georgia Tech and Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

Tulane’s success in the early 1990s after reviving the program was builton teamwork and hustle from the starters to the last player on the squad.And the University of New Orleans has had success in the 1990s againstmore talented team because it continued to out-hustled its opponentsunder coaches Tim Floyd and Tic Price.

Need more examples? Just look at the first round of any recent NCAAtournament when Davids have consistently defeated Goliaths because ofhustle, determination and teamwork. Princeton traditionally became athorn in the side of its higher ranked opponents because the Tigers hit thefloorboards, dove out of bounds and just plain wore down the moretalented teams.

There have been teams that have had all the talent in the world, but never won anything because they hit the floorboards and cleaned the glass (grab rebounds for the non-Dick Vitale types) less often than Cinderella’s step-sisters. And there are players who have relied on their talent and forgotten how to hustle, only to see their game fall apart against hardworking less-talented players.

There is often an image that today’s superstars have forgotten the playthat has gotten them to the next level. But while he may be a bit on theeccentric side, there are few players in the NBA who hustle more thanDennis Rodman, who consistently leads the rebound despite his staturebecause he outworks his opponents. And do you think a Michael Jordan orHakeem Olajuwon would still be among the game’s best if they did notcontinue to give 100 percent at all times?

Talent without hustle often leads to failure. But hard work anddetermination can lead to more success than can ever be imagined.

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