“I’ll be honest, winning isn’t everything”, is how the quote goes.  We’ve heard it many times, but it’s originally attributed, not to legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, as mythology has it, but to UCLA football coach Red Sanders, who was speaking to a phys ed workshop in 1950.  After a short pause he completed the quote, “Men, it’s the only thing.”

Some people think he got it right the first time, before the pause.  Sometimes there are more important things than winning.  Certainly that crossed John Gallagher’s mind when he added tonight’s game to the University of Hartford Men’s basketball schedule.  The Hawks, picked to finish fourth in America East, visit one of the top teams in the nation, third ranked defending national champion Louisville.  No one in the nation gives the Hawks a shot at winning this game, but it was a chance the Hartford head coach couldn’t pass up.

“Anytime you get a chance to go play in front of 21,000 people”, said Gallagher, when asked about the challenge, “In what they say is the best building in basketball, pro or college, for us to just take that floor.  We have to go down there with the right mentality, though.”.

While the opposition so far has been nowhere near the level of Louisville, Gallagher is happy with where his team is as they head to Kentucky, even after losing the first two games of the season before squaring the record with back to back wins.  “I’m really, really excited”, he said after last Friday’s win over Fairleigh Dickinson in the Hawks home opener, “Even though we did lose the first two games, you could say it was coaching.  If I made a few adjustments or if I put different guys out there.  I’m still figuring this whole thing out with the personnel.”

That personnel, led by all America East junior forward Mark Nwakamma, has the potential to take the Hawks a long way this season, and Nwakamma has no qualms about taking a crack at the best.  “It’s awesome”, he said of the chance to play Louisville, “It’s an awesome opportunity to go out and play a great team and to show that team that we can be a good team too.  It’s an awesome chance to show the world what we can do.”

That attitude seems to permeate the Hartford lineup, guard Wes Cole in total agreement with Nwakamma, saying, “It’s a great opportunity.  It’s huge for the program to be able to go play the defending national champions, the number three team in the country.  I know everyone around here is excited, especially the players.”

No matter how it turns out tonight, and it could go any way from very good to very bad, even humiliating, Gallagher is thinking in terms of payoffs.  “I threw this team a lot of hard things early”, he said, when asked what he expects to get out of this game, “Florida Gulf Coast back to back with Fairfield on a days rest.  No prep for (the Fairleigh Dickinson) game.  Now down to visit the number three team in the country.

“After five games”, Gallagher added, “Win or lose, I’ll know where we’ll be in March after this stretch.”

“Winning isn’t everything.”

Maybe Red Sanders did have it right the first time.  Sometimes the things we learn about ourselves in the process of not winning are much more important.  John Gallagher hopes his Hartford Hawks learn a few positive things about themselves tonight in Louisville.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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