How the US Basketball Team can Enhance your Campus
Trill or Not Trill?

Colleges and universities  across the country are continually searching for new ways to enhance the representation of student leaders on their campus. The university I work for right now is no different. We have a group of dedicated students who are constantly seeking opportunities to grow.  I am part of the team of higher ed professionals geared to strengthen that particular student leader population. As we investigate what we have in place and look to improve, I decided to turn to Jerry Colangelo.


Jerry Colangelo addresses the US Men’s Basketball Team while rocking his Gold Medal

As chariman of USA Basketball, Colangelo has taken a Men’s team that had suffered some embarrassing losses in 2004 and brought them back to prominence. Colangelo took over the program in 2005 and they’ve gone 65-1 in Olympic and World Championship competitions.  I’ve used some his quotes about reshaping the USA Men’s Basketball program in reference to developing a better culture of student leadership and comprehensive leadership program on your campus.

1. “You want to be a part of this going forward, you can’t be wishy washy”

It is important to recognize that with any leadership program some students will not be consistent. You could have food at the programs or any other incentive you want; if they don’t want to be there they will not show up. We can’t beat ourselves up over those who don’t make it through. A primary goal is to keep the interested students engaged. Remind students how essential a commitment to such a program is to their development. Keep them coming back with exciting and innovative workshops and they won’t be so wishy washy. Let the students know from the beginning what the expectations are. Whether it’s in regards to workshop attendance or event participation, set those standards early. Being  a student leader is a privilege and a worthwhile experience. Remind them about all the game changing possibilities.

2. “We want players who can make contributions in different ways”

When seeking out leaders, the easy thing is to take on familiar faces. The USA basketball team could have easily selected the 12 best players but instead chose a team that fit the mission. Our mission when thinking about student leadership on our campuses should be reaching the masses. Expanding the audiences is imperative. Student leaders need to come from all backgrounds. The “cool” kids who are initially apathetic about leadership need to be in the room just as much as the “cool” kids who are passionate about leading.  Preaching to the choir of stellar class presidents and orientation leaders isn’t enough and won’t get the job done by itself. Bring together the soft spoken thinker and  loud chatterbox who owns the cafeteria. The young lady who kills every open mic should be there. The brilliant 4.0 Biology major needs to be present. Get a mixed pot of students personalities and you’ll have the best tasting soup around.


2008 Gold Medal Winning Men’s Basketball Team. Known as the “Redeem Team.” Getty Images

3. “The game plan was to change the culture”

If you keep doing something the same way, you’ll keep getting the same results. This old adage is relevant when discussing ways to improve your student leadership on campus. When examining the students on our campus, I knew that for sustainability and growth a new approach had to be taken. Having a few leaders here and there just wasn’t enough. We recruited a select group of about 20-25 students to be our test group. They trained together and worked together. As a collective they pushed their peers to do better inside and outside the classroom throughout the academic semester. The biggest piece of the puzzle in regards to this group was that they were “influencers.”   In my short time at the institution, we had not targeted in that manner. Not all of them held a position on campus but they all knew how to connect to their fellow student. In one academic semester they started to create the cultural shift that was needed.

4. “The players learned to appreciate the structure in what we’re trying to accomplish and wanted to represent their country.”

Instead of representing their country, we started to get students who were passionate about reppin their school. Almost immediately, the students recognized the importance of how we structured the program. An appreciation for the workshop titles and the results that came from training was apparent. A few have attended conferences with other schools present and the look in their eyes said it all. Pride for their leadership skills and school emanated from them. There is certainly room for improvement but they noticed that too. Not only did the leaders see growth opportunities, they also added input. They started asking for jackets and t shirts to represent the leadership program. They wanted everyone on campus to know  that they represented a certain type of student. A redefinition of the typical student on campus was happening.

5. “Once certain players started to buy in and they started talking among themselves, it became the thing to do.”

When a new student walks onto a campus, they often seek the “in” crowd. Who are the movers and shakers? Knowing this, I wanted to assure that on our campus, student leaders were one of those groups to be a part of. This is not an easy task. The toughest part of any developmental plan are the growing pains. I did not expect to have 100 students buy in immediately. I did believe we could get 20 to 25 to sign on and commit. Once we got these game changers on board, it became part of their jobs to find and cultivate new leaders on their own.  We brought on students whose voices were already resonating. The next step is turn them into mouthpieces for leadership. During our summer session, I’ve already had a number of students ask about joining our leadership program. Each one that I’ve spoken to told me that they heard about it through one of our 20-25 superhero student leaders.



Our inaugural Wednesday and Friday group of the Sword & Shield Society of Student Leaders.

This post is in reference to a longer presentation available for workshops and presenting by MrJeffDess. To book this presentation or to view it in full inquire to


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Stay Trill, folks.