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Lessons learned in March Madness frenzy

By Staff
Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
March 14, 2004
I think it was only fitting that I was born in March. My first word was "ball" and the second was "basketball." The second would have probably been the first if only I could have gotten it all out of my mouth.
My dad coached high school basketball and my early memories of singing B-I-N-G-O on a ragged old school bus full of players on the road to the next game are priceless.
I ate, slept and dreamed basketball. I guess some things never change.
I still love this time of year. Think March Madness, days full of non-stop action-packed basketball with teams from the middle of nowhere fighting to play another day.
I've gotten plenty of use out of my VCR during the past few months. I tape all the games of my beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs, who are having one of their best years ever, and I watch them over and over.
Rewind, slow motion, pause. When my wife won't look up from her magazine at "that awesome play" I opt to force my dog or my cat to watch, whichever one is around.
Then, I call my dad and go over which sets we ran on offense, who played good, bad and why.
But on Tuesday, in the midst of planning my trip to Friday's SEC Basketball Tournament in Atlanta, I got a phone call at home that changed my focus from the game of basketball well, at least a little.
On the other line was none other than Sammie Cole Jr., the former Meridian High and Meridian Community College standout. Smooth stroke from behind the arc. Great ball handler. Heady player and quick defender who can jump out of the gym.
But more than all of that, "Sam" as I call him, is just a great guy. I first met Sam when he was a junior at MHS in 1999, Ernie Watson's first year as coach of the Cats after leaving the basketball rich Jackson metro area ranks.
What struck me most about Sam had nothing to do with basketball at all. It was his attitude.
Sam is all smiles, all positive, all the time. Great with kids, great with teachers, great with his peers, great with anyone.
On Tuesday, Sam and I talked on the phone for a while about his senior year at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he and former Northeast Lauderdale and MCC standout Robert Ivy transferred in 2002.
We talked about their year and how he'd had a few 20-plus scoring outings and had played against the likes of Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. We talked about his wrist injuries last year and his disappointment with his senior season. And his playing time, or lack there of recently.
But as we talked, it became apparent that I was more disappointed about his playing time than he was. I was getting angry by the minute as I listened to him explain why he hadn't played much the past few games his senior year.
But you know what I noticed? Sam didn't seem mad or disappointed. I didn't think much of it, wished him luck going into Wednesday night's semifinal game of the Southland Conference Tournament in Hammond, La., and hung up the phone.
That next night, I tried to flip through the sports channels to find out the score of Sam's game. I wanted to see if he would have a chance to advance to the Big Dance.
Then, I got a call. It was Sam. "Well, we won," Sam said from the middle of an overjoyed locker room on his cell phone.
What? One of the best three-point shooters on the team in the biggest game of the year and the coach doesn't play him. What is this guy thinking?
That's not what Sam said, that's what I said.
Here's a summary of what Sam said: "I got a championship ring and a free education for four years. And I will graduate in May. I'm pretty lucky."
Come again. You should be furious, bad mouthing the coach, something. Come on. But that's not Sam. You see, even though he's a couple of years younger than me, he taught me something this week.
Life's not all about our wants. Everything is in God's hands. He's in control. I know that, I just have a hard time realizing that on a daily basis.
But Sam's got it down pat.
And, by the way, I didn't go to Atlanta to watch my Dogs, who ended up losing in the quarterfinals. Instead, I stayed home, worked in the garden and watched Sam and the UTSA Roadrunners win the Southland Conference and advance to the NCAA tournament.
I'd say it turned out to be a good choice.

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