If You Want to Be a Competitor, Stay Away from the Swimming Pool

The Code 001 T-shirt: Look inside yourself / Achievement begins from the fire within. Those words certainly applied to Steve Alford when he played at New Castle Chrysler High School and Indiana University.

In a March 1980 segment of the highly-acclaimed television program 60 Minutes, Bob Knight, who at the time was the head men’s basketball coach at Indiana University, and who would eventually win 902 games and three NCAA Division I championships before retiring in 2008, talked about human nature and how it can prevent us from working as hard as we possibly can: “I think human nature dictates that, instead of working on my jab step – one dribble – and jump shot for an hour, I work on it for 15 minutes and then I go watch what’s going on around the swimming pool. You know, [...] I think human nature – to you, to me, to players – is the toughest opponent that we have to fight.”

In the summer of 1980, not long after Knight made those comments, Steve Alford, who would be a sophomore at New Castle Chrysler High School in Indiana that fall, was working as hard as he possibly could to be the best basketball player that new Castle Chrysler ever had and achieve his dream of playing for Knight at Indiana. In his book, Playing for Knight: My Six Seasons with Coach Knight, Alford tells us that he and his father (who was the New Castle Chrysler boys’ head basketball coach) designed a workout to improve his shooting, ball handling, and physical conditioning. He did the workout every day and recorded the results: “I would go home after a workout and chart my performance: how many free throws I had hit out of a hundred, how I had shot from the field, how my two-ball dribble had been (average, above average, poor)….At the end of the week, I would take a calculator and figure my percentages. By summer’s end, I had thousands (italics mine) of repetitions of every drill; thousands (italics mine) of jump shots attempted, thousands (italics mine) made; thousands (italics mine) of free throws attempted, thousands (italics mine) made. I knew my summer percentages for every type of shot, my average daily best-string-without-missing from the foul line (between fifty and seventy) – you name it, I knew it.”

Over the course of his career at New Castle Chrysler, Alford continued his intensely-focused workouts. He graduated in 1983 with an incredible list of honors: All Conference (three times), All State (two times), All America (1983), Converse National Player of the Year (1983), Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana (1983).

Alford went on to play for Knight at Indiana, where he continued to work and work and work to improve. In his book, A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, John Feinstein gives us an example of Alford’s work ethic: “While [...] everyone else watched the Super Bowl [Chicago vs. New England, January 1986] [...], Alford shot free throws. He had missed one against Ohio State, one against Purdue, and two against Illinois. This constituted a major slump. He shot 300 (italics mine) that evening, making 290 (italics mine).”

Alford graduated in 1987 and his achievements at Indiana were staggering: Team Scoring Leader (four times), Team MVP (four times), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (1984), All Big Ten (1985, 1986, 1987), Big Ten MVP (1987), All America (1986, 1987).

And in 1987, Alford’s senior year, Indiana won the national championship.

Do you think he ever spent much time around the swimming pool? 

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