The first time I stood in the same room as Jay Bilas, it was also my first time inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke was hosting Maryland–the Terrapins team with Lefty and Len Bias–in the kind of ACC tilt that defined the 1980s. Because I am a fortunate human being, I was a guest of Driesell and sat one row behind the Maryland bench and I'm sure Bilas ran by me at least once.
I can't remember the exact date, time has a way of removing specifics, but I do remember Johnny Dawkins hitting a scoop layup to open the game and the Cameron Crazies going nuts. Your memory is funny that way–I can't pinpoint a year, but I have a clear image of the Dawkins layup. I also remember Len Bias had the biggest, sculpted shoulders I'd ever seen, and the softest midrange jumper as well.
But this is about Jay Bilas 20 years later, the second time we were in the same room, his first time inside the Siegel Center. It was April 2005 when VCU had scheduled its season-ending banquet. Bilas was the featured speaker. He would tell a funny joke about holding Ralph Sampson to 38 points one night, as well as make a point to the gathering that VCU was building something special. He was not joking, and he was right.
It was during this time that I was crafting what would be the outline for Cinderella. It needed a boost, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. I had this little blog called CAAHoops and had forged solid relationships inside the league. But the book was a big idea and it needed a level of big I didn't possess. It needed a national stage, a name that would catch a publisher's eye.
So there we were, one hour before Bilas' speech in one of those glad-handing receptions, when the idea hit me. It literally came like a lightning strike, without any pre-planning or forewarning. Jay Bilas. He was growing in stature at ESPN and you could see the direction he was headed. Of course.
I bounced the idea off of The Beautiful One, who encouraged me to do just that. Whatever was on tap at that reception helped as well. I would ask Jay Bilas, a man who had only ran by me a few times when he was a college basketball player and couldn't pick me out of a police lineup, to write the Foreword for the book.
Jeff Capel, who never gets the credit he deserves for what he accomplished at VCU, was one of the people I had come to know. Capel agreed with the idea and didn't give me time to argue or back down. Capel took me immediately to Bilas. After some small talk–I like to pick the brains of people who can offer perspective–I managed to ask, and Bilas graciously accepted. He gave me his contact information and said to contact him the following week.
That would have been enough, had working with Bilas not been such a tremendous experience.
Bilas was immediately responsive, hit every deadline I imposed, and his writing was very thoughtful. He didn't mail it in, not even close. I was particularly impressed, and happy, that his Foreword did not toe the mid major party line. One of the goals of the book was to spark a discussion, a different point of view, and that entailed admitting there are facts of life that are not in the favor of the CAAs of the world. Bilas delivered.
We smoothed out some language and he was thankful to me for understanding his point of view and a clean edit. Imagine that: he does me a favor, lends his time, credibility and intelligence to a project that's not from a nationally-known writer, and then thanks me.
The point of all this?
The end of this season will bring us to the tenth anniversary of that night in April 2005, and I can never thank Bilas enough. He was the first national personality to agree to help an unknown, a true act of selflessness. I will go to my grave grateful for this gesture. It changed the path of what I do and what you read here.
Your success, and perhaps future success, is likely due to the help of others. Never lose sight of those people. And the other side of the fence holds true: make time for somebody who asks for a favor. Do it, and do it well, because it may matter on a level you don't know.
You can continue to harbor ill will for the laugh test comments from March 2011. Not me. I prefer to listen to what Jay Bilas has to say because it's intelligent and thoughtful. It's a matter of invoking Don Miguel Ruiz's second agreement: take nothing personally.
This season, I believe, is the season where VCU will be truly judged on a different level. It's no longer an underdog story and the team with the improbable Final Four run. There's been continued success. Building–literally. This is the year that VCU goes from a program that could to a program that should. (h/t DF)
And with that may come harsh words, worse that passing a laugh test or anything that occurred in March 2011. Deal with it and appreciate the moment, this season. We have something special–something I'm not sure has a comparable–and my plan this season is to bring it to you on more than an X-and-O level. We're going to soak it up.
And if you like what you read, nod your head in the direction of Jay Bilas.