On March 19, 1987, I saw Clark Kent. He was warming up on the basketball court before a big game. When it was time to play, just like in the movie, Clark Kent became Superman.
Unfortunately, he didn’t play for my team.
It was March Madness and my alma mater, the Alabama Crimson Tide, was playing the Providence Friars. Our seats happened to be right in the middle of the Providence cheering section, which was far from full. Before the game, I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged couple sitting in front of me. Not only were they Providence fans, their son played on the team.
When the Friars entered the court for pre-game warmups, the dad pointed out his son. I didn’t say anything but the kid looked more suited to deliver pizzas than play college basketball. He flunked the eye test.
The starting lineups were announced and as I was getting ready to cheer on the Tide, the kid ran onto the court to join the other four Providence starters. Clark Kent was starting the game.
I didn’t see him enter a phone booth and emerge wearing a cape, but he must have. From the opening tip, he controlled the game. Clark Kent was Billy Donovan, now the head coach of the Florida Gators. On that day in 1987, he scored 26 points (six of seven from the field, nine of ten from the free throw line) and made ten assists.
He may have looked like a pizza delivery guy but he played like a Globetrotter.
Providence won the game by 21 points. It was a mauling. After the game, I turned to Mr. Donovan who was still sitting in front of me and I said: “Congratulations on the win. Tell me about your son.”
Billy Donovan was a gym rat. He would sneak into the gym in the middle of the night and play basketball. By himself. For hours. He became good enough to earn a scholarship to Providence. After warming the bench for his first two seasons, he decided to transfer to a smaller school with the hopes of getting more playing time. But his coach, the legendary Rick Pitino, encouraged him to stay, to get in better shape and to work on his game.
He did. And he became a different player. He joined the starting lineup as a junior and averaged 15 points a game. As a Providence senior, his average increased to 20 points a game and he was named to the All Big East first team.
Years later, Pitino said: “I have never in my life had someone work so hard to improve as Billy Donovan.”
We love to hear stories about people who overcome the odds and do great things. Almost always, there is a backstory involving an investment of hard work and self discipline. For Donovan, it was busting his hump to get in shape and spending many late hours inside an empty gym to become a better player.
But there was more.
Billy Donovan’s example of leaping tall buildings in a single bound is a good one to remember. The three steps:
Know what you want to accomplish. Know what must be done to accomplish it. Take action and keep doing it until it is done.