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Leadership lessons learned from the Cyclone basketball team

Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

First of all, let me go on the record in saying this:

I love this year’s Iowa State Cyclones basketball team. Win or lose in tonight’s Sweet 16 game against the University of Connecticut, this team holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons.

Hilton vs. OSU

Now you know my (strong) bias.

One of the special things about these Cyclones is the leadership that its coaches and players have shown. As a young professional, I try to soak in leadership lessons however I can, and there have been plenty of opportunities while watching this team.

Here’s are a few strong leadership moments from this season:

Keep your cool: In the last few minutes of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina, Iowa State found itself trailing by five points during the last media timeout. The season was on the line, and the team had its back against the wall. What did coach Fred Hoiberg tell his team? Smile. It worked. The team went on a run and eventually won the game. Lesson learned: In trying circumstances, keep your cool and your team will follow suit.

Keep a good attitude: Of course, in that game against North Carolina, the Cyclones were playing without one of their best players, Georges Niang. Niang broke a bone in his foot during Iowa State’s first round game. It was a devastating turn of events for the Cyclones, but not only did Hoiberg find a way to adjust his game plan in less than two days, Niang actually called a team meeting on Saturday night before the game just to get everyone in the same room to talk as a team. The Cyclones could have easily folded, but instead they went out and earned one of the biggest wins in school history. Lesson learned: Adversity will hit, but with the right attitude you can overcome it.

Have confidence: In Iowa State’s final regular season game against Oklahoma State, Naz Long missed a three-pointer late in the game that would have given the Cyclones the lead. During a stoppage of play, Long told an Oklahoma State player “I’ll put any dollar that if I get this ball again, it’s going in.” He got it again, and put in a long three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game, sending Hilton Coliseum into the kind of frenzy I’ve rarely witnessed. Lesson learned: A little confidence goes a long way.

Be a team player: Melvin Ejim just does things the right way. A true student-athlete, Ejim is smart, well-spoken, and full of class. And the Big 12’s Player of the Year. He’s not flashy, and he’s not always the most talented player on the court. But he makes plays within the flow of the offense and often acts as the glue that pulls the Cyclones together. Lesson learned: It’s not always the most charismatic, or the most God-gifted, or the most outspoken person who is the best leader. Hard work and the desire to most-effectively help your team will pay off in the long run.

Learn from hardship: This team is full of guys that have gotten a second chance in some way and made the most of it. Lesson learned: People make mistakes, and sometimes just run into tough circumstances. What counts is how you learn, grow and respond.

Take advantage of the moment: Maybe my favorite story so far: There’s been some speculation that playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City will be a bit intimidating to the Cyclones, especially since their opponent has already played there twice this season. But according to a photo on the Iowa State Athletics Facebook page, Hoiberg gathered his players at midcourt during Thursday’s practice and said “See those bright lights up there? This is what we played for all year.” Lesson learned: Enjoy the moment. Don’t fear it.

Have some fun: Oh, I almost forgot. After Iowa State’s win Sunday, Hoiberg broke out his dance moves in the postgame locker room celebration. Let’s put it this way: The Mayor dances about like me, which is not a ringing endorsement. But he owned it, and his players loved it. Lesson learned: It’s OK to cut loose every once in awhile.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Hopefully I can learn a few more lessons, but whatever happens from here on out, I’ve enjoyed the ride.

Go Cyclones!

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Comments

Well said! Thanks for reminding us.

Great comments. I especially like the one to smile. Shows the kind of leader Fred is. Having fun is important.

Great blog and lessons for all of us.

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