LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is a rivalry story that only marginally has anything to do with the actual rivalry game between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Maybe it's a shameless use of something involved with the rivalry to make a bigger point. But since both coaches have obliged me by talking -- independently of each other -- about the same subject, it perhaps gives us one chance to think in larger terms about some things before proceeding to the inevitable finger-pointing, name-calling and general antipathy.
Last week, talking to his team after its loss at North Carolina, John Calipari said something I'd heard before.
His players were stinging a bit after three early season defeats. They came into the season ranked No. 1 by a slew of people. Some didn't expect the team to lose any games, let alone three. Calipari told his players they had to let all that go.
"My message to them is simple today – you can't change how we started," Calipari said. "Not changing. You can change how you approach the end. And that's how you'll be remembered."
He hit that theme in a short talk he has with the team every day about life. It's one worth taking to heart. Nobody is all that worried about the process you use in the kitchen -- it's the meal on which you're going to be evaluated. He wanted his players thinking about where the team wants to wind up, and he wanted them clear on how they will be judged -- by their finish, not their start.
In fact, Louisville coach Rick Pitino had that same talk with his team in 2012 when they were struggling with injuries and stumbling down the stretch. Pitino had more seasoned players, so he put it in classroom terms for them. He told them that their grade would be determined by the final exam. Ace the final, he told them, and nobody would remember the struggles it took to get there. He told the same thing to Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware after suspensions last season. Finish well, and the struggles will fade in people's memories.
His 2012 team wound up in the Final Four, and a year later won the NCAA championship.
I wanted to write about this today not only because it is a notion that these rival coaches have made use of, but because it is a message that should have application far beyond basketball.
It was a major message Pitino wanted to include in his book, and not for basketball, and not even really for business, but mainly for life. Because all of us forget. We all have losing streaks, or difficult circumstances, or discouraging times.
"You have to remember how you will be judged. Fair or unfair, you have to understand it," Pitino wrote in his book, The One-Day Contract. "At that moment, everybody believed we were mediocre. I told them you can't let outside people judge your performance. It has to be the people in our locker room, and within our coaching staff. I told them that nobody would remember the fact that we went through these tough times. I told them they would solely be judged on the final exam.
"Over and over, we talked about the final exam, which for us was the NCAA Tournament. . . . This is something worth thinking about for everyone struggling to regain focus. On what will you be judged, the current difficulty, or the final result?"
The messages of these two coaches seem particularly appropriate this season. UK is in the midst of a process of molding young talent into a team. U of L is in the process of facing its first difficult tests and navigating a path that would keep it on top.
For everybody, it seems to me, there are times when it's worth remembering that the current struggles are not the final chapter. There is a larger story to be written. That doesn't give us an excuse to procrastinate or to dismiss everything going on today. But it does remind us that today's frustrations, if we encounter them, are not the final result.
Soon these teams will meet and the rivalry will flare up to its full force, and that's fine, that's what sports is about.
But at some point, it's worth remembering that there are other things we all can learn.
The coaches of these two teams aren't perfect, they're flawed, make mistakes, win and lose, just like the rest of us. Well, they probably win more than the rest of us.
Calipari spent much of this weekend with his son, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Friday night. After the Saturday press conference following UK's victory over Belmont, he left the arena to be a dad. Pitino is in south Florida with his children and grandchildren.
They are teachers, fathers and father figures, and human beings like the rest of us. Just quite a bit more wealthy. Neither is the demon the other side makes him out to be. But both of them have had enough success that it's worth listening to them from time to time -- especially when they both make use of the same theme that's applicable to so many parts of life.
If there are people this holiday season who find themselves struggling or not quite happy with the way things are going, they'd do well to remember this message. It's about the final exam. Work toward that. There are no guarantees, no. But that's the only chance any of us has to make the final chapter one that we're proud of.