NCAA Tournament Reflection: Strengthening work ethic to get to the next level

By Michael Bethely The Black Lens

In March, the college basketball madness began. Men and women college teams all over the country get a chance to compete for a coveted championship. Culminating the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that these student-athletes made all year into one final tournament.

The atmosphere inside the Spokane arena this year gave the exact vibe that one would expect it to give … Electric. Excitement. Living up to the hype. As seen on TV. It made me want to run to the back, grab an extra jersey of one of the teams, and see if I could get out there and play.

After the national anthem and the music starts back up, I hear a fan sitting behind me say, “Oh my gosh, I have chills!” I did too. From the national on air talent that has analyzed, critiqued, and praised the college players from the beginning of the season, to the crowd management workers directing people to the places that they need to go. This is an opportunity for these young players to showcase their talent, and drive up their stock for whatever position or profession they hope to have after college.

Student-athletes go on to be professionals in many more things other than the sport they’re playing, and the benefits of getting to this level has its implications. Positive ones! Résumé keywords like: Discipline. Team player. Works under pressure. Communication skills. Time management. Patience. All these attributes can translate into the workforce in whatever profession you may seek. With more access and exposure, our youth get a real feel for what could be next for them, with the right work ethic.

But what does it take to get to this level of competition? What does a young Black athlete who desires to play amongst the best have to do to get there?

I asked a few of the players playing in the tournament, and the most common answer was: hard work.

Lamont Butler, a senior guard for San Diego State, talks about how he wasn’t sure if he’d be taller than 5-foot-9, but he put in the hard work to be good at what his coach told him that would get him playing time – defense and taking care of the ball. So he did. Now at 6-foot-2 he’s a starter.

Lamont gave me some advice for the younger guys coming up. “My dad always told me that hard work beats everything, so I took that to heart and I kept doing that daily and I was able to get to this position.”

He shared that in high school and middle school he was the smallest player. People would say, yeah he’s good, but he probably can’t do this at the next level. I just took that as motivation. “Regardless of size, go out there and impact the game. Take that with your life, don’t let what other people think affect what you’re doing. You have your own thing going on, stay with your circle and trust the people that you have in your life.”

Too many times, we see talent put before work ethic, when it’s really the dedication and consistency that sharpens the talent. There’s a mindset and understanding that needs to be nurtured in our young Black athletes. Especially here in Spokane where national attention isn’t as prolific and students and student-athletes looking to move to the next level must be intentional and stay dedicated. Even with natural talent, exposure to the right training, mentorship and resources is necessary to increase opportunity for local talent.

Access is needed for our youth. Exposure to college environments is also key. That’s why I’m grateful to see programs like Emmanuel Fitness, that offers obtainable athletic training to the underserved community. Offering scholarships and giving access to their top of the line equipment. This is why the NCAA tournament being here is such a dope opportunity for young athletes like Makai Daniels, who’s been following some of the college players since they were in high school.

Makai, who will be a senior at North Central next year, and his dad Jon Daniels were at the open NCAA practices for that very reason.

“It’s just amazing to see. This is the level that I want to be at one day, so it’s nice to see how they move and operate, even on the little things,” Makai said.

This year his North Central team had a record making season, getting to the state tournament for the first time in 10 years.

Jon Daniels added, “I actually love it for him, because this is where he’s trying to end up and being able to see the practices, the intensity, the way they move, the way they think. It’s a privilege, especially for a young man here in Spokane.”

As Spokane grows, it’s important that investments in black centered youth programs that create a direct pipeline to success are nurtured and our youth get to see themselves represented in athletics and beyond. With more access and exposure, our youth get a real feel for what could be next for them with the right work ethic and opportunity.

To view a video clip of the NCAA Tournament, visit our YouTube at