Jay Triano – Take risks and embrace failure

Ian Minnifee is a proud alumnus (BA’94 – Economics) of the University of Calgary. As a student, he was member of the Varsity Men’s Basketball Team. Ian bleeds Dino red and continues to be a strong supporter of our basketball team (BTW what a tremendous season they had this year!) and our entire Athletics program.

I feel privileged to have worked on Senate with Ian in the past and we continue to stay in touch. I asked Ian to share his thoughts about one particular honorary degree that I was able to confer during this fulfilling week of convocation ceremonies. Here is his guest blog entry about our newest UCalgary graduate:

This week I was fortunate to witness the University of Calgary confer an honorary degree on a Canadian pioneer in sport. Jay Triano has been an international ambassador for basketball for decades in a country which, until recently, identified itself with hockey excellence. The irony of Jay’s passion is that it was a Canadian, Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game back in 1891.

University of Calgary alumnus Ian Minnifee (BA'94)and Jay Triano (LLD'16)

University of Calgary former senator and alumnus Ian Minnifee (BA’94) and Jay Triano (LLD’16)

Jay’s journey makes for a great Canadian story with his beginnings in the small town of Tillsonburg, Ontario all the way to becoming the head coach of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA. Along the way Jay was drafted in the same year by the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA and the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. He captained Canada’s Men’s Basketball team when they won the Gold Medal in the World University Games (FISU) in 1983 in front of a hometown crowd in Edmonton, Alberta. He coached the Canadian Men’s team to a 5 wins and 2 losses record at the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia and then became the first Canadian-born head coach of an NBA team. This story has many more chapters to be written, with Jay once again leading a talented group of Canadian basketball players towards qualification for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

The granting of an honorary degree from the University of Calgary fits well with our university’s history and aligns with our vision of solidifying the University of Calgary as a significant player in Canada. In 1988 the University of Calgary played a major role in supporting the Olympic Games with the construction of the Olympic Oval on campus, where many world records have been set. The City of Calgary is home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame where, before his career is done, I’m certain Jay and his current men’s basketball team will be celebrated. Our university is invested deeply in interacting with the global community, as is Jay with his work with Basketball without Borders. His passion for basketball and his pride in wearing the Canadian Maple Leaf has taken him to the likes of Istanbul, Senegal, Slovenia and Australia.

Jay’s inspiring words to the University of Calgary graduating class of 2016 were amongst the most memorable I’ve heard delivered at convocation. His address was not filled with stories of working alongside Steve Nash, Canada’s best basketball player in history. Nor was it filled with comments about spending time with Kobe Bryant, recently retired and future NBA Hall of Famer, talking about the strive for excellence. He could have talked about mentoring two young up-and-coming players as an assistant coach with the USA Men’s Basketball National Team in 2010. A speaker who had played a role in the development of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA would have surely excited the graduates.

Instead Jay focused on life lessons he has learned from his experience and from successful people he was privileged enough to have been around:

Take risks in life and embrace failure
Jay reminded us that fear is something we learn as we get older. We should instead envision a toddler learning to walk for the first time or a child falling off a bike as they attempt to balance themselves on two wheels. The first few attempts result in failure but, with persistence and without fear, they find eventual success.

Jay shared his story of being homesick as a freshman at university and how he intended to reveal this to his coach and possibly return home. Just before he was about to do this, a fellow teammate informed the coach that he had bone cancer and that his leg was to be amputated. This teammate of Jay’s was focused on how he was going to remain part of the team rather than dwell on how unlucky he was to have this happen to him. This teammate should be familiar to most Canadians as we celebrate him every year when thousands lace up their sneakers for the annual Terry Fox Run.

The bamboo tree
The bamboo tree takes 3 years of watering before it breaks ground and begins to grow. After this period, the growth of the bamboo tree is tremendous. Jay’s message here was to take your time and don’t rush through things. Diligence and patience are important.

Jay Triano has had a profound impact on the game of basketball in Canada and the best may still be to come as he guides the Canadian Men’s team through this golden age of basketball in Canada. More importantly, he is a great Canadian that represents the values we all aspire to have and his pursuit of excellence is something we can all learn from. As a longtime admirer of Jay Triano, it was a special day for me to see him honoured at our university and to see him become a member of the University of Calgary family.

Go Dinos Go!!!

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