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March Madness Lessons Transcend Basketball

Want to learn how to speak in public, turn negative to positive, or handle an aggressive reporter?

Watch a few of the savvier March Madness coaches.

Want to meet a spectacular athlete whose most impressive gift will never show up in the stat book? Elena Delle Donne, whose Delaware Blue Hens lost in the Sweet 16, was one of the most compelling figures in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Coaches First

Forget x’s and o’s. These guys are as prepared as any politician who appears on the weekly talk shows (now more yelling than talking), and frequently execute as well as their best ball handlers shred the full-court press.

If you have to speak to the stockholders, address your employees, or even give a toast as best man, watch a post-game press conference or two.

Take Florida Coach Billy Donovan. Put Donovan in a suit instead of Gator sweats, replace game talk with issues like education, taxes, and homeland security, and you could run the guy for Congress.

Watch this hard-nosed former player a few minutes. He doesn’t rush. He’s cool under fire. He delivers thoughtful answers that stay on message, and which seem designed to resonate with all his constituents, including his players.

He also deals as well with the lows as the highs, at least in public. The Gators knocked off this year’s Cinderella team, Florida Gulf Coast, then got slammed by Michigan. Donovan, perhaps thinking already about next year and sending a message to his returning players, told the media, “We didn’t play well enough or deserve to win.”

Donne with Pleasing Others

Though blessed with pro-caliber skills and size, 22-year-old Elena Delle Donne made a decision freshman year that stunned the basketball world.

The highly recruited Delle Donne chose powerhouse Connecticut, then scrambled back home after only 48 hours as a Huskie. Blasted as flakey in the media and online, the young superstar was following her heart back home.

There, it turns out, she has a severely disabled older sister with whom she is extremely close. Reconnecting was more important than winning titles.

Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma told ESPN he understood, but also noted Delle Donne missed out on the chance to be part of a championship team.

Replied Delle Donne, “Fifteen-year-old Elena would say that’s incredible, everything I ever dreamed of. Me (Elena) now, that’s not important to me … There’s a lot more to it for me. Loving where I am is most important.”

Delle Donne says she and her sister, who is deaf and blind and has cerebral palsy and autism, “have an unspoken love. That’s something you don’t have with people in our time today, where text messaging, phone calls, Skype, are everything.”


Everyone who’s ever worn a team jersey has learned a life lesson through sports. What’s your story?

Billy Donovan interview.

Elena Delle Donne video.

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.