With the 2023-24 college basketball season now underway we thought this sweet story was just perfect timing!
Jesse, a youth counselor in our residential program, takes pride in his ability to connect with the kids—boys aged 13-18—he works with at Cunningham. During a group session one afternoon, they started talking about their heroes and Jesse told them that one of his heroes is basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, popularly known as Coach K.
"I told them about Coach K’s story," Jesse said, "how he is a West Point graduate and Army officer, coached basketball at Duke for over 40 years where he earned five national titles and has multiple gold medals with the Olympic team."
The boys thought it was cool how Coach K coached NBA greats Lebron James and Kobe Bryant on the U.S. Olympic teams. A few of them, who were familiar with Coach K and Duke basketball, pointed out that he was the college coach of other popular NBA players like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.
During their conversation, Jesse shared this Coach K quote: "I believe God gave us crises for some reason – and it certainly wasn’t for us to say that everything about them is bad. A crisis can be a momentous time for a team to grow – if a leader handles it properly."
"I talked about how Coach K coached many young men who had experienced adversity in their life," Jesse said. "I used Kyrie Irving, who as a freshman at Duke tore his ACL, as an example. For anyone who depends on his body so much, and with so much on the line, an injury like that had to be devastating. However, Kyrie rehabilitated for a year, overcame the adversity, and is now a star player in the NBA."
The boys then followed up with examples of their own. A few of them had read a book about NBA legend Dwyane Wade, who played under Coach K on the Olympic teams, and how he grew up with a mother who struggled with drug addiction.
Jesse asked 12-year-old Sam why Wade was one of his heroes and he said, "to overcome his rough childhood and accomplish what he did is impressive."
It was the perfect opportunity for Jesse to explain to the boys that everyone experiences challenges and adversity in their lives and it’s how you respond to them that makes the difference.
"I pointed out that not only did Dwyane Wade overcome crises like Coach K said in his quote, but he used it as a momentous opportunity to grow," Jesse said. "And now, Dwyane Wade is not only an NBA champion and future hall of famer, but he is also a fantastic and supportive father to his children because he was able to use his challenges in a way to learn from them."
It was good for the young men to see how experiences, both good and bad, are part of this journey we call life. And that people aren’t born great, but they can become great by overcoming difficult circumstances with hard work and dedication. Our heroes don’t exist in an untouchable world where perfection happens; many times, they too have had struggles and challenges.
At the conclusion of the group session, Jesse distributed individualized autographed photographs of Coach K to each of the boys, featuring personalized messages from the coach.
"I told them that since Coach K was a hero of mine, I had reached out to tell him why," Jesse said, "and that sometimes heroes in your life will respond in ways that confirm exactly why they are heroes in the first place."
The boys showed interest in learning more about Coach K and asked Jesse to get books and DVDs about him. They also have a list of heroes, the likes of Jackie Chan (actor), John Cena (WWE wrestler) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (NBA champion), that the boys are wanting to write letters to next!
At Cunningham we like to say, "heroes work here." And Jesse is one of ours.