How does the National Champion, Kyle Guy hit 3 free-throws in a row under immense pressure to win the biggest game of his life?
Pushing through crippling anxiety while on anxiety meds, Guy focuses on what he can control. And that is his MIND. He writes and speaks about the pressure to perform in letters addressed to himself. Much like a journal. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a HUGE believer in journaling. It provides the need to communicate one’s feelings and how your feeling and ideas become better as you get it out into the open air.
If you care about mental illness, the upcoming book series Kobe and I are working on will help develop those skills necessary to withstand extreme pressure and anxiety.
Nobody in life gets away unscathed.
Mental Toughness is TRULY a tool you can take anywhere.
Here’s both letters he penned to himself and posted on social media:
Letter No. 1
They say with great success comes great responsibility. Cliché, yes, but they were not kidding…. they can’t teach you how to handle everything that comes with winning. They can’t prepare you for the hatred and support, or for basketball fans to forget that you’re a human being, that you are here for more than their entertainment. Now that you’ve won the ACC regular season, the ACC tournament championship, and the overall number 1 seed for the NCAA tournament, I still can’t prepare you for everything that will come. But I can sure as hell try.
You came into the season with team and individual goals. Both were considered “lofty” because you, and the team, were overlooked before the season even started. But you are used to this. You’ve been an underdog your entire life, or in other words, your whole life has been full of Goliaths. You were always smaller and skinnier than everyone you played against, never passing the “eye test.” But just like David, you have conquered all of your Goliaths, despite everyone telling you, much like they told him, you would fail. That’s why you have a tattoo of David standing over Goliath on your thigh; you carry that wherever you go and you never forget it.
You knew these team and individual goals were another Goliath, and they could be conquered. You wanted to be First-Team All ACC; you were First-Team. You wanted to win the ACC regular season and tournament championships; you did both. You wanted to be a First-Team All American; You were Third-Team. You wanted to be the best team in the country; you earned the number one overall seed. You not only proved everyone wrong, but you proved yourself and your teammates right. That is sweeter than my grandmother’s homemade pecan pie.
On top of all of that, you got engaged to the love of your life and sweetheart since 8th grade. She has been with you through it all. If things get tough don’t shut everyone out, especially not her. Everything you are is because of her and your small circle of family and friends. I recommend you tell them how appreciative you are of them and their support. Don’t ever take them for granted because there is no rule against over appreciation. Plus, you’re going to need them. Not everyone knows, but you’ve been taking medication for your anxiety attacks all season. You’ve kept it a secret because you didn’t want to be viewed as weak. You were worried people might think you aren’t built for this. But now you need to realize, that even if they do think that, that’s fine. They can think that. They weren’t with you when you bursted into tears in the middle of practice and you didn’t know why. And despite that, you kept pushing. They weren’t there every time your Fiancé helped calm you down night after night when the pressure seemed to consume you, but you kept pushing. They don’t understand you couldn’t smile through the latter half of the season because the anxiety and pressure was eating at you, but you still kept pushing. You’ll realize that everyone isn’t a part of your story, because they don’t know your story. And they don’t need to.
Your high school coach told you, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Tough times never last, but tough people do. You will have to buckle down and find your happiness in the game again for now. Remember why you chose to play with the best team you’ve ever played for, full of the greatest people you’ll ever encounter. They have your back, your family has you back, and you are a child of God. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for YOU are with me” Psalms 23:4. You have always been a believer that pressure is just a figment of your imagination, as is fear. It only becomes real if you let it. If you begin to think too much about the past or the future, or what people think, it can become very real.
Don’t buy in now. We all know the joke this year will be the year the 16 seed beats a number 1 seed. Don’t feed into it now, Coach Bennett is always reminding you to stay humble and respectful. You chose to play under the best coach and leader I’ve ever known and probably ever will know. You and the team never fed into the media or the haters all year. You put the blinders on and focused on the end goal. I beg of you not to buy in now. This team can be special in March. We know what people say about Virginia basketball in March… “It won’t work.”… “They play too slow.” This is a chance to shut them up. We have accomplished so much as a team already. This has been one of the best seasons in the history of college basketball. Why stop now? Because check this out; if you are looking for an excuse, you will always find one. If you are looking for an opportunity, you will always find one. You asked for this opportunity to make noise nationally.
Here’s your shot. Don’t waste it.
Letter No. 2 from Guy to himself:
It has been 6 weeks since the last collegiate game of my sophomore campaign. And I will get straight to the point. I have never been better. That doesn’t mean I have been that way since you know what happened, but it does mean I am good now. Everyone goes through adversity but not everyone lives there. I don’t want this piece to be a pity party, a sermon or preachy, or even a feel good story. I want this to be REAL. I want this to impact people and I want everyone to understand what my team and I went through. This is my story.
The whole week leading up to the game we knew we could not overlook UMBC. We spent countless hours working our asses off and making sure we would “out underdog the underdog.” This program is full of them. Hungry and motivated, underdogs. At the under 8-minute media timeout in the 2nd half I no longer found myself hungry and motivated. I found myself ready to burst into tears. I found my teammates more quite than normal. We found ourselves down 20 points to the team we were supposed to beat. Going into the game everyone jokes about “don’t be the first team that finally loses to a 16 seed!” When you hear that you try to shrug it off but the reality is at that very moment I let the pressure sink in to my mind. Because hell no I didn’t want to be the first team to do it. I did not want to make history for the wrong reason. When the under 8-minute timeout concluded I took a deep breath and I put my face in my towel and said to myself, “calm down. Believe that you can do it, not that they could pull this off.” Next thing I know my brother, Isaiah Wilkins, fouled out. I go put my hand on his shoulder and as I attempt to say something I was speechless. I realized at that moment that we may not win, but I will not let these seniors, this program, or these fans down. They will remember that I never gave up and I played until that last buzzer sounded. Well, we already know how it ended. And when that final buzzer sounded… I cracked. I cracked and the pressure got to me. If you know me or read my last passage you know I do not believe pressure is real, unless you let it be real. Pressure comes from thinking too much about the future or past so there can be such thing as no pressure if you just be where your feet are. Well I was right where my feet were but my mind raced to the past, the future, and the present. It was too much.
I was hit with an overwhelming feeling of sadness, anxiety, and failure. All the sensations of that exact moment consumed me and I was no longer in control of my emotions. I was crying uncontrollably. It was like a sugar rush of desolation. While I was at half court and UMBC crowded the court I felt isolated. I was detached from reality. My brother, De'Andre Hunter, literally had to drag me and escort me off the court. As soon as I got in the locker room I hugged our seniors and I said “I’m so sorry.” I went on to sit in the showers and cry alone. I wanted nothing more than my fiancé or mother to come hold me. Coach called us in the huddle and he said his closing remarks. I honestly did not hear one word. All I knew was I had to go to the podium and hold a press conference and be able to talk to the media in front of millions of people with Coach Bennett and my brother, Ty Jerome. The only word I can think of to describe myself on that podium was numb. It was a dark place. Some of the questions were so tough and some were so dumb (ask Ty) that it was the hardest interview I’ve ever been a part of.
The feeling of embarrassment is hard to shake. It was even harder to swallow that embarrassment and go on the podium. My throat felt dry and sore from holding back tears. Every word that came out of my mouth had to be second guessed so my voice wouldn’t crack. I had to constantly sip my water to keep myself busy. Then while I was on the stage I remembered something I heard a while back and it was fairly simple, yet effective. There are few things as powerful as the human spirit. It does not easily break and I was not going to let a loss break me and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let reporters do it. Last year I tweeted that I never I lose I only learn. That night was the first time I thought I lost in my collegiate career. I could feel myself letting everything seep in. I was a sponge for what people would say over text or on social media. I realized at the end of that press conference I would forever be remembered as the first and only team to lose to a 16 seed. There aren’t many people who know what it’s like to be the ONLY person (program in this instance) in the world to be on the wrong side of history. No one has done this before and it might be awhile before it happens again so no one understands the sheer pain and fear to be ridiculed. Misery loves company…
This might be the most known motivational quote but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s from Eric Thomas. “Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year. But eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit however. It will last forever.” It was also at this moment as I walked off the stage that I vowed to not quit and to not let this define me. “Just because you fail doesn’t make you a failure. You’re supposed to fail; failure is a stepping stone to success.” I walked off that stage and promised to myself that I wouldn’t forget the feeling of that night at half court. That feeling of having nowhere to go or no one to turn to in that moment. Seeing the opponents celebrate and storm the court while my eyes filled up with tears uncontrollably. That feeling of drowning while being able to see everyone else breath. I was going to work my ass off to never feel this way again.
When we finally got to leave the arena we had to get a police escort and go in the back of the hotel. You know why? Because we got death threats. There was suspicion of someone hurting a bunch of 18-23 year olds for losing a damn basketball game. Not only is that sad for the sport but it’s so transparent that everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. No matter how real the threat was it’s not a good feeling when the world seems to have turned on you and exiled you. I had so many emotions that night I couldn’t sit down to think about death threats so I went to my room where my mother, father, step mother, step father, 3 out of 5 siblings, and fiancé were waiting in the room for me. Seeing your family heartbroken for you while you’re heartbroken as well, is breathtaking. And not seeing your significant other in a red dress breath taking, but the kind that sucks the air from your chest and and never gives it back, making it impossible to speak. I hugged them all and told them I loved them without saying a word. My mom is the most positive person I know when she asked me how I was and I said “a bend in the road isn’t the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.” She replied with “You’re right but what if I told you not to worry because when you feel like your drowning fear not, your lifeguard walks on water.” Ironic.
The next few weeks would not be easy for myself or anyone on the team. Walking around campus with everyone staring and giving disgusting looks was hard. Every person knew my business. Everyone knew our every move. Everyone knows why were were all wearing a hood and headphones. It made me feel claustrophobic and when privacy is not on the table you begin to be jealous of the freedom of the wind. But here is why I am thankful for this happening to my team and I. We got a head start. In life and on the court. I worked on myself for 3 weeks and kept in the shadows to completely heal and move on. I realized the more time I spent sulking the more opportunities I was missing to grow. I realized every second is an opportunity not an obligation. I am now striving to be a person that wakes up and gets out of bed and makes the devil go “oh shit he’s up.” I found an appreciation for the light because I’ve been in the dark. After this season, I have been fed and I have starved. We had a fantastic season with lots of accolades and great moments but it ended it in a negative light to most people. For me, I’m not going to stop the story just because I don’t like the scene. I have a tattoo on both of my traps that read “in such a way.” It derives from 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. It says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” If you aren’t religious that is okay because your imperishable crown can be an array of things. Your significant other, a national championship, your family, being a good person. All things that no one can take from you. For me it means to live a life in such a way that it is infectious and fearless. Being able to lose in great spirits.
I have so much respect for the team of UMBC. I watched one game the entire tournament after our loss. That was UMBC vs. Kansas State. It also teaches you to live in such a way that invites struggle AND prosperity and finally, in such a way that is passionate. We’ve started up workouts again and I have never hated losing before. I always saw it as a learning process and it was bigger than basketball, which it absolutely is still both of things, but I now have a profound hate against losing. Every rep and practice requires a type of focus and precision that most people can’t reach. That’s the mindset it takes at this level and I’m happy it happened to me now. The reason I wrote this is because I wanted to cope with every feeling, emotion, and sentiment that my brothers and I went through. Writing was therapeutic for me. Not everyone understands the toll athletes go through and I hope this was a good read for those who don’t understand. I also hope that anyone struggling in life or sports understands they aren’t alone and everyone has a voice to share their journey. You can’t judge my story because of the chapter you walked in on. The only way I could continue my story was by putting a bookmark in this chapter and turning the page. See you next year, March.
I do not want everyone to think that I just suddenly woke up one day motivated and hungry again or that I could get through this all on my own. This last part of the story is about the special people in my life that helped make me the man I am today. To my 4 parents and 5 siblings (I know, wow) who have always supported me in ways I can’t describe. Never once asked why. Never told me what they wanted to do. Always put your differences aside for my well-being. You let me make the decisions and do what made me happy. For that and so much else, I thank you. To my extended family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles; thank you for always going out of your way to come to my games and celebrations. You guys are part of why basketball is fun for me. Your support and devotion do not go unnoticed.
For that and so much more, I thank you. To my close friends (you know who you are) and my teammates, you always knew how to make me laugh and help me realize that the bad parts of basketball are worth it and that we had each other’s backs. I love my brothers. For that and so much more, I thank you. Finally, to the queen of my life, my fiancé. I have loved you for 6 years now and you continue to inspire and amaze me daily. I am so focused and devoted because of your devotion to me and my career while also chasing yours. You have made so many sacrifices for me and you don’t hear this enough; I am grateful for what you do for me. I will forever be indebted to you. Since 8th grade I have tried to find someone as selfless as you and that person just doesn’t exist. I am blessed to be able to one day call you my wife. I couldn’t ask for a better companion to take on life with. You have been so patient and compassionate with me this season. You’ve been the first to hype my head up and the first to humble me and I love you, forever and always.