FOREWORD

       For many of us connected with University of Florida basketball, we first heard of

Jason McElwain just da...
national championships. I really believe that Jason and Coach Johnson were a blessing

for us that year. They made us unde...
innocent belief in the game of basketball, belief in his team, belief in his coach.

       And Jim Johnson wanted to reac...
championship.

       To me, the wins and losses will come and go. But a story like this can carry on

through the years. ...
Billy Donovan

Head men's basketball coach

University of Florida
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A Coach And A Miracle: Life Lessons from the Man Whose Faith in an Autistic Boy Was Rewarded

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I have the privilege of sharing the foreword to a very special story. If you want something to lift your spirits, look no further than the attached foreword to A Coach And A Miracle. Many thanks to Athena High School Coach Jim Johnson (www.coachjimjohnson.com) for allowing me to share this.

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A Coach And A Miracle: Life Lessons from the Man Whose Faith in an Autistic Boy Was Rewarded

  1. 1. FOREWORD For many of us connected with University of Florida basketball, we first heard of Jason McElwain just days before we made the NCAA Final Four in late March 2006. Once the guys saw the game video, they were all talking about it. Everybody was touched by the story; it was just incredible. By the time we traveled to the Final Four, all of our guys knew who J-Mac was. Not long after we got to Indianapolis, I received a phone call from our sports information director, saying that J-Mac was being honored that weekend by appearing at all the shoot-arounds so he could meet the players. We were at Butler University the day before our semifinal game against George Mason, and I thought it would be a great experience for our kids to see J-Mac in person. Unfortunately for him, his dad and Coach Johnson, they got caught in traffic and couldn't make it. But later we were having a team meal and I was told, “Listen, they're over here staying at the same hotel, can they come by?” I said “Sure.” The funniest thing was J-Mac going around saying "Where's (Joakim) Noah, where's Noah? I want to meet Noah." The players let him pull up a chair and took some pictures with him. He was saying "You better watch out for Glen Davis, you better watch out for Glen Davis," referring to LSU’s star, “Big Baby” Davis. J-Mac is outspoken in a good way. It was great for me to take a step back watching our team interact with him, and him with them. I hope our guys made him feel like a million dollars. I was honored to spend that time with Coach Johnson as well, based on the pivotal role he had played in Jason’s ascent to sudden stardom. We went on to beat George Mason and UCLA for the first of our two straight
  2. 2. national championships. I really believe that Jason and Coach Johnson were a blessing for us that year. They made us understand that with the national stage our team is on, we do have the opportunity to inspire others. By looking at this young man and what he accomplished, it energized and motivated us to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We played terrific team basketball both years that we won the NCAAs. Even at the major collegiate level, you need to try and keep it innocent and pure. We’ve had a lot of success at Florida, but the minute you start getting out of that team focus—being selfish, looking out just for yourself—it becomes very, very difficult. I remember getting goose bumps the first time I saw the J-Mac video—all the scoring he did, his teammates constantly passing the ball, the crowd going crazy. When you look at all the seemingly insurmountable odds J-Mac overcame, you couldn't have scripted it better. It makes you think of all the other kids who are the 15th, 16th man on their team. A team is not just the Joakim Noahs and the Al Horfords, guys who starred for my national championship teams in 2006 and 2007. It takes a special kid to be the 15th or 16th person. He knows that his playing time will be limited or even nonexistent, but he makes just as strong a commitment to the program as everyone else. That in turn promotes team unity, right on up to the starters. When Jason did get a chance to play, it was like the “Rudy” story, a chance to fulfill your dream. Rudy made just one tackle, which may make some people say that it’s insignificant. But it was huge for Rudy because that meant everything he had worked for. It was the same with J-Mac. Because of the time he had put in, just the fact that he was playing in the game made it a moment he’d remember for a long, long time. J-Mac is an inspiration to all of us because despite the daily challenges in his life, he had a great
  3. 3. innocent belief in the game of basketball, belief in his team, belief in his coach. And Jim Johnson wanted to reach out to him. I look at how Coach went out of his way to make sure that J-Mac had an unbelievable high-school experience, to give him that opportunity. Their relationship was genuine since it was not built on one taking from the other, or trying to benefit from the other for any personal gain. This story must have made Jim break down and cry as a coach, knowing that he made a dream come true for one of his players. It also appeals deeply to the rest of us coaches, at all levels, who dedicate themselves to bettering the lives of young men and women. You could coach a lifetime and not experience something this heartfelt, even though you hope every single year that you will. For five minutes that night, you saw put into a capsule what coaching is all about. This thing, to me, is so much bigger than winning and losing. It's about human life. There’s so much here to inspire other people. What happened was a blessing. Look at all the other lives that were touched. There are so many teaching tools that came out of that game in Rochester. Often in the coaching profession you’re perceived that if you win, you're great; if you lose, you’re bad. You feel that if you don't win enough, you're probably not going to have a job for very long. So it's easy to lose sight of what’s important, and you have to bring yourself back to that all the time. Jim helped bring coaches back to their mission. Everything he did with J-Mac was for the right reasons. Here's a young kid in the last game of the year, and there’s just a gymnasium in his home town watching him, no national TV attention just yet. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t a part of a national championship team. It was his championship, the school's championship, the coach's
  4. 4. championship. To me, the wins and losses will come and go. But a story like this can carry on through the years. People look at how our Gators won back-to-back national titles and predict that we'll go down as one of the greatest teams ever. But twenty-five or thirty years from now, I don’t how vivid our accomplishments will be in people’s minds outside of Florida. The story with J-Mac and Coach Johnson, on the other hand, is something that will stick with people everywhere. And because of the Internet, you can show what happened over and over. I don’t know if anything else will equal that, ever. You can never underestimate the possibility that when you’re passionate about something, God has a chance to use you in a way to inspire other people. There are things that happen spiritually that we’re not capable of applying ourselves. I never thought I’d get to play for Providence and go to the Final Four, get drafted in the NBA, coach at Florida and win back-to-back national championships. I’m not capable of that on my own. It’s the blessings of God. God works through all of us in different ways and can touch us in different ways. When you look at the spiritual side of what happened with J-Mac and Coach Johnson, I really think something was there. There's no question that the hand of God was in all this. Jim’s motives involving his team manager were pure; no one told him “If you spend a lot of time with this kid, you’re going to get a lot of publicity.” He was just hoping to get J- Mac into a game. God looked at that, he blessed that decision and he allowed the world to see it. What happened one night in Rochester, New York, was beyond something human.
  5. 5. Billy Donovan Head men's basketball coach University of Florida

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