The heart and determination of a champion

Philip Consuegra

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my years of watching sports, it’s that sometimes the biggest reasons great teams emerge as champions isn’t because of their skill or their height, but instead by their heart and their attitude. The teams people remember aren’t the ones who were supposed to win, but the ones whose spirit and dedication was unforgettable: the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1966 Texas Western basketball team and the 1985 Villanova Wildcats. This year, it’s my prediction that the nation will add one more team to that list: the 2006 version of the Villanova Wildcats.

In the world of sports, sometimes titles are won not by the size or the speed of the team, but three factors that one can only sense: heart, perseverance and character. These are three reasons why you should pick Villanova to win on April 3.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how resilient Duke is, or how strong and large UConn is. I’ve heard that Villanova doesn’t have the size to go all the way. I’ve heard that Boston College will come out of the Minneapolis region because they’re too much for ‘Nova to handle. I’ve heard that Villanova just doesn’t have enough tools to reach the Promised Land.

They may be right on a few things. But there are a few factors that the “experts” always fail to see in teams like Villanova. These factors are the things that outsiders can’t see, but that some of us on the inside can definitely feel.

There’s not one team in this tournament who has gone through more obstacles than Villanova to get to where they’ve been. Injuries and heartbreak have practically been the theme since these seniors arrived on this campus. Setback after setback, these guys just kept going. They kept believing. They kept the faith. They kept trusting each other. And look at them now.

After everything they’ve been through together, you can’t help but pick ‘Nova this March. These setbacks taught this team how to persevere, how to tough it out. And nowhere is that talent more needed – or used – than in the NCAA Tournament. This teams toughness is just way to hard to bet against. And that’s not something that the “experts” really measure. Why? Because they can’t measure it.

You can’t measure the effect of a second chance at life. You can’t measure the effect of the team’s determination to get through the countless injuries they’ve been through. You can’t measure the effect of a heartbreaking loss against North Carolina. You can’t measure the effect of what could have been a season – or career – ending injury turning into miraculous news for the entire Villanova community.

I’m not saying that Villanova is the most talented team in the tournament. But what I am saying is that Villanova is the team with the most heart and the most character, which are intangibles that can mean the difference in a tournament setting like this. These things can change the tide of the game from a contest of skill to a contest of will. Having witnessed the last three seasons, the Wildcats can win that contest hands down.

The team’s class is something to marvel at. The team’s dedication to each other is something younger players and teams can aspire to. Their unity is unparalleled. Their heart is incomparable. These are the intangibles that create champions, these are the factors that make destiny realized.

One has to look no further than Friday night at the Big East tournament to see just how much this team has affected Villanova itself. As Allan Ray was led off the court, suddenly there was something more important than getting that Big East win. There was something more important than trophies, more important than titles, more important than stats. As the entire ‘Nova Nation held its breath and began saying its prayers for the man known on campus simply as A-Ray, we understood that this team means more to us than just a win or a loss. An event like that will make you think, and will make you play with a lot more “gusto” than normal. Personally, this reporter can’t wait to see Allan Ray back in action. The ovation will be enormous.

We can all learn a little bit from the Villanova basketball team. And soon the entire country will realize what we have here on the Main Line: not just a feel-good team from a small Catholic school outside of Philadelphia, not “the little team that could,” but the team that, at least this year, has a date with destiny in Indianapolis.

And they’ve earned every bit of it.