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March Madness Champions and Their ‘Painful Gift’

UVA men's basketball team are the 2019 NCAA Champions. Read about their remarkable year.
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Congratulations to Virginia men’s basketball team on their first NCAA championship. It was a remarkable journey for this team, especially considering where they were a year ago.

In last year’s tournament, this Virginia team entered as the number one team in the whole tournament — organizers had designated them as the most likely team to emerge from the 64-team playoff as champs. That meant that they were seeded against the lowest team in the tournament, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, a school most of us had never heard of before. And Virginia lost.

It was the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament, which is saying a lot for an event dubbed “March Madness.” Never before had a top-seeded team lost in the first round.

But how we handle adversity says a lot. It’s easy to be generous and courageous and thankful and strong when you’re standing on the victor’s podium. But what about when you’ve been dealt one of the worst losses in history?

Virginia coach Tony Bennett knew that how the team handled last year’s loss would come to define them — as a basketball team and as individuals. So he found a way to lead this team through a demoralizing defeat (guess what opposing fans chanted at the Virginia team all season long this year — UMBC! UMBC!). And now they are the ones standing on the victor’s podium.

How did they do it?

In this interview that was recorded before their overtime victory over Texas Tech, coach Bennett called that UMBC loss a “painful gift.” It is never fun to lose, but losing gives you an opportunity to respond to adversity. And the only way to transcend the pain is to go through it — not around it.

The same holds true for our weaknesses and the struggles we face in life — if we try to avoid them and hide them away, they still retain their power over us. But if we embrace them as “painful gifts” and place our trust in a loving God, we’ll find a way through. In Christian terms, they embraced the cross. Ultimately, that’s our only source of hope. No one transcends death, but in the cross, we have a way through it.

Coach Bennett made gratitude a pillar of his team’s character, but this year they’ve learned to be thankful even when things don’t go their way. He offers a revealing question in this interview — a question that holds within it the secret to the resilience of this Virginia team, a question that reveals why they are champions: “Can you be thankful for what adversity teaches you?”

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