The Howard University [HU] football team may have fallen short of their goal last weekend, losing to the still unbeaten Mid-Eastern Conference leaders North Carolina A&T Aggies, 34-7, but for one group of HU students, the weekend secured memories that they’ll remember for years to come.
The HU basketball team, ranked #1 in their division as their season opening game approaches Nov. 11, finished practice on Saturday, Oct. 22, and then sat down with sports legend Coach Carter whose life made headlines in 2005 when Samuel L. Jackson portrayed the coach in the box office smash “Coach Carter.”
In the movie, Coach Ken Carter takes over the head coaching job for the basketball team at his former high school Richmond where he played and broke records. The team undergoes a transformation of attitude, character and ability while learning what life is like when winning becomes the norm.
In real life, Carter now lives in Texas where he has founded and directs an all-boys junior high school. He joined the Howard team at the invitation of their coaching staff and athletic director as a means of encouraging the young men as they enter a season in which they’ve been predicted to excel.
“While our first game this year isn’t until Nov. 11, all of October feels like the season has already begun,” said Athletic Director Kery Davis. “Anytime you can bring someone like Coach Carter with a winning experience it’s always a plus.”
“The team has high expectations and we wanted someone of the caliber of Coach Carter to share his philosophy and keys for embracing a winning attitude and the work ethic that’s he taught his players and lived himself,” Davis said.
Carter, who said the film based on his life got it “95.5 percent correct,” spoke to the players in their locker room – teasing, cajoling and laughing with them – then turning to the more serious purpose for his visit.
“You kids get paid by the value you bring to the team not by the hour,” he said. “And playing on a sports team prepares you for bigger platforms on which you’ll be called to play for the rest of your lives. Winners do one thing – win.”
“I know you all want to buy that special house for your mothers one day. But first you have to invest in your future. That means putting in extra hours, remembering that you’re both a team and a family. And then approaching this season with a ‘get it done now’ attitude.”
“Sometimes it may be a bit overwhelming, particularly for you younger players, because you know you have a target on your backs this season since you’re the top-rated team in your conference,” he said. “That’s when the older players have to step forward.”
Carter remains proud of the fact that every player on his Richmond teams went on to earn their diplomas – graduating from high school and college. Many of his former players now hold positions of leadership in their hometown of Richmond, California.
“Anyone who plays college basketball hopes to make it to the NBA but you’ve got to look at the numbers and be realistic too,” he said. “Only one out of every 500,000 players makes it to the professional league. That means you’ve got to be prepared for life after basketball. Even those who make it usually end their career by the time they’re 30. But with the average human life span now at 100, that means you have 70 more years of life. You’ve got to be prepared for what happens next.”
“Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is the execution of power. This year with the abilities and talent you have on this team, you have a unique opportunity. But you’ve got to push yourselves, come early to the gym and stay late,” he said.
Carter shared his four keys to success.
“First, be accountable. Second, you’ve got to have integrity. Third, remember that you have to be a great follower before you can be a great leader. Finally, never forget that you are part of a team so think team.”
Assistant Coach Catrell Coutreyer commented on Carter’s motivating message.
“We all realize that this is a big season for us. But we always expect great things from our players. We teach our players that they’re already champions so we don’t really have to do anything differently. It’s all about consistency, focus, hopefully staying healthy and being great every day,” he said.