It’s players first, not player first

As we get ready for tournament time — the best part of the year — we are trying to figure out this entire season and prepare our team and this staff for the moments that lie ahead.

We’ve had success in the past in conference tournament play and NCAA Tournament play. We’ve had teams advance and win championships and had a ball doing it. Every player benefited by the success of the team.

That’s what “players first” is about. It isn’t “player first.”  People don’t understand it’s plural.

My job is to love them. Their job is to love each other. During the season it is about the team. When the season ends, it’s about each individual player.

What do I mean by that?

During the season, we become one of the most efficient teams in the country every year. That means players are sacrificing and giving up some of themselves for the team. You don’t have 30-point scorers on my team. You have guys that score 30 in a game, but they don’t try to do it every game because they are playing for their team.

A great example is last year with Anthony Davis. He took the fourth-most shots and became the No. 1 pick. His stock rose as our stock rose.

Each player does get better, but they get better when they get the idea that it’s about the team first. It’s the idea that, as this team gets better, my stock rises too, and so what is my job for this team? I’ve got a coach that cares about me, will look after me, has my back and that will tell me the truth at the end of the year. So at this point, what do I have to do for my team to win?

It takes some teams longer to get it, to truly lose themselves in the team. Other teams get it quicker. Last year’s team got it pretty early. You know when those guys figured it out? After Indiana smacked us on the road. They came together like no team I’ve ever seen.

So when we talk about players first, it’s about putting the team before individual players. It is having every player feel good about being cared about and being loved by the staff. They know they aren’t going to be thrown under the bus. They know they aren’t going to be held back and they’re not going to be talked into things that are not in their best interest.

They know that the goal for all of us is to win championships. As we win championships, players will come first.