(Todd A. Smith)

On the classic song “Hate It or Love It” by The Game featuring 50 Cent, the two G-Unit emcees said, “Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top and I’m gon’ shine, homie, until my heart stop, Go ‘head envy me, I’m rap’s MVP and I ain’t going nowhere, so you can get to know me.”

Fans will remember the 2023 Final Four as the year of the underdogs, with San Diego State defeating Florida Atlantic 72-71 at the buzzer to set up a national championship matchup with Connecticut (UConn).

Although the 2023 NCAA Final Four only features one blueblood in UConn, the upstart programs from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and San Diego State University epitomize what college sports and life is all about.

It’s not always who starts the race in first place that ultimately claims the top prize in life.

Prior to their historic 2023 NCAA Tournament run, FAU had never even won a tournament game.

Think about how difficult it is to motivate players and recruits to believe in a program or a vision with no track record of real success.

Nevertheless, FAU almost made it to the national championship game.

Despite a nonexistent track record, many of the biggest names in society and business began from nothing.

Many did not come from families or backgrounds that afforded them a head start in life.

Nevertheless, many of the most successful people in the world used that as motivation not as a deterrence.

But for people who truly believe in their abilities, like the players and coaches from FAU and San Diego State, ultimate success is no shock at all.

When asked if the Owls liked the label of Cinderella, Nick Boyd replied, “No, not really. We don’t really like Cinderella. We feel we’ve proved ourselves this whole year just by our body of work, our numbers, how we play as a team.

“I feel like a Cinderella team doesn’t play the way we play. We haven’t came in games and just shot people out or beat people by offense. We beat these teams frame by frame defensively, and I don’t think we’re a Cinderella team.”

What Boyd said about how they beat teams is a key to success and overcoming the obstacles to achieve one’s dreams.

True winners in life know who they are.

They rely on their strengths.

Furthermore, they stay in their own lane.

FAU’s Giancarlo Rosado summed it saying, “No Cinderella at Florida Atlantic, man. If you want to call us something, call us champ, call us the beach boys, but no Cinderellas.”

That is not to say that so-called underdogs should think the road to success in life will be without potholes and detours.

San Diego State guard Lamont Butler said, “Early in the season, I turned the ball over against Arkansas and made some mistakes in the last couple of seconds of the game. Against New Mexico, I was able to redeem myself.”

He said his mantra of not letting six seconds define you “…means to stay humble, keep your head down and keep working. You can’t let a small mistake define you and you have to keep going.”

That statement would mean even more after the conclusion of the first semifinal matchup of this year’s Final Four.

Throughout the game, it looked like the Owls from FAU had the game in hand.

FAU led by 14 points with 14:46 left in the second half.

Furthermore, the Owls led the Aztecs for 31:42.

However, failing to get several rebounds and committing costly turnovers allowed the San Diego State Aztecs to creep back in the game.

After FAU took a questionable timeout with mere seconds remaining in the game and missed a basket that would have put them up by three points, the Aztecs stole the game on a last second baseline jumper.

The Aztecs led the game for only 6:34.

However, they led by one at the only time that mattered, the end of the game.

In the game of life, a person might look like they are losing for much of the time.

But just at the right time, if that person does not give up, victory can be had.

The Bible says that victory is not always given to the quickest or swiftest of foot.

But sometimes victory is for the person that does not give up.

The person who faints not in doing good will eventually capture the victor’s cup in life.

Seeing a team come from nowhere, never give up during the trials and tribulations and ultimately achieves their goal is why March Madness attracts so many fans every year.

People see themselves in the underdog and the Cinderella.

That motivates them to apply the same grit and grind in their lives that they see the athletes apply on the basketball court.

Although he hesitated on the last second shot, Butler rose and knocked down the buzzer beater for his one shining moment.

Aztec guard Matt Bradley said, “I don’t even know what to say right now. This is crazy. Who would’ve imagined but us. Mont [Lamont Butler] man…the second time he did it this year, and we all trusted him. He showed up when it mattered man. I’m so proud of him, so proud of this team. It’s crazy right now.”

So crazy, that after Monday night, an underdog might be on top of the college basketball world.

Todd A. Smith
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