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by Kelvin Sampson

St. Patrick's Day has arrived and April showers will soon dampen spirits. Such are the signs that it's that time of year again. It's the time of the year that we live for as coaches.

It's March Madness!

It can be dissected and examined countless times, but in the end it will be discovered that this is ultimately why we, as coaches, get into the business of college basketball. It's for the opportunity to be a part of the biggest show in sports -- The NCAA Tournament.

And to make a difference.

Every once in a while someone will comment to me that they wouldn't want my job. That really bothers me because I couldn't imagine wanting to be involved in any other endeavor.

The coaching profession affords you the opportunity to help mold young kids into men. The relationships, the competition and the satisfaction of accomplishment are beyond compare.

Just like any coach in America I thoroughly enjoy the victories, but I enjoy even more when a former player comes to visit me and tells me about his job, his new car or the house that he and his wife just purchased.

It's those things that make this profession so great. It's a reward that is very fulfilling.

Not everything should be measured in terms of simple wins and losses. Only one coach and one team can walk away at the end of the season with the knowledge that they were the only group to win its last college basketball game of the season.

Does that mean that 64 other teams were not successful? That doesn't even warrant a response.

The NCAA and NIT tournaments are all about competing. They are about being part of something special. 25 years from now the kids at UNC-Asheville and Texas Southern can say they were a part of March Madness. One team will score more points than the other, but they will both walk away as winners.

The experiences that those players and coaches have are something you cannot place a value on. Ask Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach or TSU's Ronnie Courtney why they got into coaching.

They will talk about things like competing, relationships with players and being a part of something special.

And ask them if they got into coaching for the riches, which are so well publicized today.

We do not choose this profession with the idea that perhaps one day we could make high six-figure salaries. And anyone that does get into this business solely for the potential monetary gains will not be around for long.

Sure I have benefited from success with a nice contract, but that's not why I decided to become a graduate assistant at Michigan State.

I was making $280 per month and when I took my first head coaching position, at Montana Tech, I was given a stipend of $1,000. I made $16,000 in my first year as a head coach. Even back then that was not a significant amount of money.

For many years I had to supplement my income, with odd jobs, just to make ends meet. But I did it because I loved being a coach.

Look at Mike Krzyzewski, who started as the head coach at Army, or Bob Huggins, who has been at places like Walsh College. And how about Lute Olson, who spent many years as a high school and Junior College coach?

All three of them are considered amongst the tops in this profession and they all have been rewarded with lofty contracts. But none of them got into coaching for the chance that one day they might be financially secure.

They chose this profession for the opportunity to do something they truly love. They made sacrifices for the rewards of teaching, building relationships and for the love affair with competing.

That's what this business is all about.

In the coming weeks, Cinderella stories will emerge, players that people never heard of will become household names and one team will be crowned the champion of college basketball.

But every coach will walk away that they had been a part of it.

There is nothing better, there is no greater reward and there is nothing I would rather be doing.

It's time for the opening tip. March Madness has arrived.

NOTE: This column was written by Kelvin Sampson when he was the head coach at Oklahoma.



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