By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It has been with us for as long as man has kept score, this idea that in the games people play there is a winner and a loser.
But what does that really mean, winning and losing, and how does it affect the competitors?
Think, if you must, at this moment of West Virginia University basketball, of a Final Four team just a few years back and of now, a .500 teams struggling just to keep its head above water. Think of the way it affects the way you feel, about the way it affects the way you behave, your actions and thoughts while watching a game,
Then try to translate that into what the athlete and the coach must feel, as fully invested and involved as they are in the performance and outcome each time they take the floor.
It is something that we have long addressed it, as far bad as 1953 when UCLA football coach Red Sanders offered this though to his team.
“Winning isn’t everything,” he said. “It’s the only thing.”
And if that was for the ears of the competitors, ABC-TV in the heyday of its signature sports show “Wide World of Sports” promised that it would show us the “thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”
Until Wednesday night when a thoroughly dreadful TCU basketball team came into the Coliseum, West Virginia’s Mountaineers had lost three straight games, but they pulled this one out, making it a perfect time in inquire of those involved just how it differed, the feeling that comes with winning as compared with losing.
“In all honesty, winning has become kind of expected and losing is excruciatingly painful,” coach Bob Huggins offered, not surprisingly to anyone. “My dad quit because the losing affected him so much. Go back and look; he played an 18-game schedule usually (without playoffs) and averaged 20 wins a year for his career, so he didn’t lose very much.”
Yet it got to him so much that he retired prematurely.
Jabarie Hinds is a sophomore guard. He has not really experienced the big-time victories at WVU yet; still he understands that winning offers things that you don’t feel when you lose.
“A win is a win. It don’t matter how you get it. It’s a good feeling,” he said.
“When you lose, the locker room is down. There’s a lot of, ‘We shoulda did this,’ or ‘We shoulda did that,’” he said.
If that was all there was, it would not be quite so bad, but losing invades all areas of a player’s or coach’s life.
“To be honest, we lose I don’t want to go to class. I don’t want to show my face … but it is what it is,” Hinds said.
And if the team wins?
“If we win, I’ll go anywhere. It’s a good feeling.”
Deniz Kilicli is a senior. It’s his final season and it was born with great hope, yet now he is on a team that is no better than .500, a team on which he has not performed at his highest level, and he is willing to be honest about the emotions that gnaw at him.
“Right now, to be honest, I can’t even get happy,” he said, following the victory over TCU. “We are 9-9. This doesn’t do anything to us. I’m not happy with the season, but it’s all our fault.
“The mindset is, win or lose, it really doesn’t change how we look at stuff. Next day, we have to go hard. I think to go to the NCAA Tournament we have to win 12 or 13 in a row.”
With a senior, the NCAA is the cherry on top. No senior wants to end his career playing in a tournament other than the NCAA or, worse yet, not playing any post-season at all.
But what of a freshman? What of a young player in his first year who individually is getting better with each passing game, a player like Eron Harris, who has scored in double figures in his last three outings and had 19 against TCU?
“Being a competitor, you get mad at things, especially if you have a big part in the game, gave up a big bucket or missed some shots that affected the outcome. You’re mad,” he said of losing. “You are just looking forward to the next game to improve. You go into practice to attack, and you look forward to the next game so you can fix the problems.”
And, he notes, that winning can’t change that same attack attitude.
“You can’t get too high or too low. When you win, you have to keep the same hunger you had when you lost. That’s something we have to learn to do,” he said.
Terry Henderson, another freshman who has had some big moments, understands what Harris speaks of.
“When you win, you will feel much better in the morning, but we have to come out the next day and play or practice just as hard,” he said. “The prime example was Texas. We had a great win there and came back and lost. It’s all the mental aspect of the game for us. We still have to work on that, because everyone on this team is not perfect. I think once we get it going we should be good.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.