“Dream Big” Inspiration from a Sports Star

As a young teenager, I was fortunate to have a passion (basketball), along with two strong and loving parents. I never worried about much and concentrated solely on 3 things – my education, being a good son and developing my basketball skills.

What I didn’t know then is how important inspiration would be for me, particularly from people outside of the family circle. Steve Freeland, my first basketball coach at age 9 was an early inspiration and continues to be. My first “Dream Big” inspiration came from a man most of you have never heard of, yet he played at the highest level of college football in the USA.

His name is Jimmy Jones and he was the celebrity guest at our 8th grade basketball team banquet. I’ll never forget the atmosphere as most of my teammates hadn’t been around someone who grew up in our hometown (Harrisburg, Pa) and played football at one of the crown jewels of the sport, The University of Southern California (USC).  He was the quarterback at USC directly after OJ Simpson left the school for the NFL. Jones also has a Sports Illustrated cover to his credit!

“USC's biggest concern is the sophomore quarterback with the aching back—Jimmy Jones (see cover). Jones, one of the very few black quarterbacks in the history of college football, is the gifted youngster the Trojans are hoping will lead them into their fourth straight Rose Bowl. Two years ago he was one of the most sought-after schoolboy quarterbacks in the country. His junior year he ran and passed for 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. That was nothing. His senior year it was 2,400 yards and 40 touchdowns. Offers flooded in, 112 of them. Everybody wanted the good-looking kid with the .30-30 arm and speed—and the intelligence that goes with a three-point-plus academic average.”

At our banquet, he was in his late 20’s and his star power was shining bright. From the moment he walked in the room, the electricity was sizzling and most of us couldn’t wait to hear him speak and/or get a private word with him later in the evening.

While I don’t remember the topic of his speech, I do remember the inspiration that came from his sincere words. His cool style of dress and aura only added to the wonderful evening. I was grateful to share a few private moments with him and came away even more inspired.

For the first time in my life, I started to envision how basketball could help me to lead the life I desired; beginning with the early goal of obtaining a scholarship like Jones. I was inspired to “Live my Dreams”, although at the time, I didn’t realize that his inspiration would stay with me until this day.

After that night, I worked even harder on the three aforementioned goals (education, good son and basketball) and made sure to keep all distractions to the side. I was super focused. Having the Jones inspiration, a mentor as giving as Steve Freeland and dedicated parents made my path to success smooth as long as I kept my eye on the prize (scholarship).

Not only did I become a bigger basketball star (averaging nearly 25 points) my senior year in high school, I had numerous schools offering me a collegiate scholarship. I chose the University of Vermont (UVM) and I couldn’t have made a better decision. Despite the inglorious years of the UVM basketball team (a story for another day), the school was fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely.

In addition, the free education, connections and comfortable college experience at UVM, provided the springboard for living my dreams beyond university. Also, I met Bill Brown, my UVM teammate and a dear friend for over 30 years.

I’ve been fortunate to live in Boston for 4 years, New York City for a decade, Belgrade, Serbia for 2 months and Sweden for 10 years. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a life so interesting and diverse.

Over the last 20 years, two close friends who live in my hometown have also given me inspiration in many forms; whether it was laughter, wise words or showing by example. Five years ago, one of them said to me “You are Living your Dreams, aren’t you”. I could only smile and say “Indeed”.

What my friend didn’t know is that Jimmy Jones gave me that first burst of “Dream Big” inspiration. I’m extremely thankful for that. I’ve not been in contact with Jones since that auspicious night in 1977, although I plan to reach out to him in the near future.

Inspiration is a beautiful thing.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Jimmy Jones (USC) and George Payne (UVM)

Be the “Coach K” of your March Madness Office Pool

It’s that wonderful time of the year for all college basketball fans. As a former Division 1 basketball player at the University of Vermont (UVM), there is no sporting event I look forward to more than the NCAA March Madness tournament.

In addition, on Sunday March 16, the teams will be announced and millions will begin to fill out their bracket sheets in office pools around America.  If you participate in one and are tired of losing or never finishing in the top spots, pay close attention.

Yes, it’s time to toot my own horn, something I usually don’t do, although in this case, it’s okay as my “Coach K (Duke’s Head Basketball Coach)” excellence comes in the form of a competition not so meaningful (office pool), yet as fun as anything I participate in.

I doubt you know anyone who can claim the statistics below in any March Madness office pool. I only participate in one as imagine my results if I competed in several!

Keep in mind that there has been an average of 80 people in my New York City office pool since 2003.

2003……….Top Prize
2004……….Top Prize
2005……….Top Prize
2008……….Top Prize
2013……….Top Prize

Yes, that is 5 victories in the last 11 years, which puts me a few levels ahead of Coach K. Also, I came in the top 7 in many of my losing years, yet rarely mention that as I go for all or nothing.

I had a dry spell (very surprising to me) after 2008 but came back strong in 2013. Last year, it came down to the combined final score of the game (tie-break) between me and another person. Guess who knew the combined final score averages in the last 20 years of NCAA championship games? Yep, yours truly. My opponent had no idea and had a combined score that posed no threat to me and secured 2nd place for him.

How do I do it? Well, many of the basics are in an aforementioned article I wrote years ago which include essentials like picking all higher seeded teams in the first round. The link and a quote are below.

E) The first round is crucial even though the points per game are the lowest. Know which teams are likely to upset higher seeds and look at past performance. If your college team is playing, NEVER pick them unless they are a top notch program. My college was in the tournament 3 years in a row and I didn’t pick them even though they upset Syracuse one year. If you don’t know the teams well, picking all higher seeds (only in round 1) will usually give you a good first round score.

The fact that I played college basketball helps me immensely, along with studying the college teams/landscape throughout the year. My overall success comes from a formula I came up with for filling out the brackets – something quick and simple to do yet has proven effective. That is the only thing I have not shared as I can’t give away my secret weapon.

Nobody likes to lose and if you have never tasted that sweet “thrill of victory” in your office pool, I implore you to read my blog post and learn as much as you can about injuries, what knowledgeable analysts are saying and just as importantly, NEVER showing unwise allegiance to the college you may have attended. I love my UVM Cats, yet have never picked them to get out of the first round, which didn’t hurt me in 2005 (I won that year) when we shocked Syracuse and the world!

A tip for 2014:

Wichita State – I’m not saying that they will win it all but look closely at what they did last year, how they performed this year (undefeated) and the history of their point guard.  Concentrate on their bracket.

Remember, every pick is important. Most of my victories came down to the last game or last combined score.

All the best to you this year and I hope you stay away from the March Madness “Agony of Defeat”. I’m planning on winning my office pool once again, even though the road will be difficult as there are plenty of teams who can win the National Championship.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

2008 - A Good Year for Gswede!  Image weblink