As a big basketball fan, coach, business leader and parent, I’ve been thinking about the multitude of lessons that can be learned from the National Championship game Monday night.  Here’s my quick take on some of the key points:


1) Relentless adaption is key to success:
Coach K has been widely praised this week for finally figuring out how to win with “one-and-dones.” He also adapted to recruiting and coaching one-and-dones, he’s using more pro sets in his offense, and he even adapted to using a zone defense.   When a hall of fame coach says “we’re going to review everything about our program”, that’s significant.  Clearly it worked – he realized they needed to adapt and adjust.  The same is true of so many companies who get comfortable and fail to keep innovating and re-examining their success.

2) There’s no substitute for experience + new energy and talent:
Both Duke and Wisconsin benefited from incredible senior leadership. While Duke had some of the best freshmen in the country, they went so far as to call it “Quinn Cook’s team”. Wisconsin clearly was led by Big Frank Kaminsky as the role model for leadership. Both of these players were the rock of their teams, and were looked to by the others for advice and leadership.  Did you also notice how Big Frank was the first one to really outplay Okafor all year?  He had studied every one of Okafor’s moves and was able to anticipate them.  It’s the first time all year that Okafor looked like a freshman – and that was because Kaminsky out-prepared him and played like the senior he was.  How many of our companies really take the time to study and anticipate the moves of our competitors over time? How can we best leverage the right balance of experience on our teams by combining it with new youthful energy from new hires regardless of their age? Blending seasoned experience with new energy and talent is the key to many great teams.  Studying the competition takes time to do so – and real leadership.

3) Mastering the basics is so underrated:
Both Duke and Wisconsin have perfected the pick and roll, pick and pop and all the refinements of the classic two man game. Did you notice all the ways they used it in the game?  So basic and yet so hard to master with such precision and execution excellence.  Great companies never lose sight of refining the basics – great product simplicity, keeping the customer as the center of all work, sticking to core competencies vs reaching too far……I could go on and on.  Just this past week the shoemaker Crocs announced a “return to the basics”, after concluding they had strayed too far from their core.  There are dozens of examples like this across most industries.

4) Always be gracious in defeat:
It was painful to see Bo Ryan complaining about the officiating nonstop in the post-game. Being gracious in defeat is one of the most important signs of maturity.  And by the way – where was his PR leader?  S/He should have pulled Bo aside in the heat of the post-game to remind him of the classic post-game PR formula – praise the other team, praise your team, then talk about key highlights of the game.  It’s so basic – and yet when the formula isn’t followed – so obvious!   It’s probably safe to say that he was not exactly the model of the brand image that Wisconsin hoped to portray on national TV on Monday night.

5) It takes the whole team:
Lots of articles are being written this week about the emergence of Grayson Allen for Duke. The articles all indicate that he’s been the hardest working guy in practice all year with his intensity, hustle and effort. The coaches kept inspiring him to work hard and be patient for his moment in the spotlight to arrive.  Well it certainly did!  How many of us as leaders are constantly coaching some of our unheralded teammates to keep working hard so that they can emerge at the right time?

Lessons from Basketball

I love sports as a teaching tool for business.

Let me know what other lessons you saw in the title game on Monday night!



Michael Riegel

Vice President

Industries, Platforms, and Services Marketing