Since news of James Montgomery III’s scholarship last week, the story has had some time to go completely viral, from amassing more than 540,000 views on YouTube to being featured on the front page of CNN. His experience has been extremely revealing, in multiple ways. The emotion expressed by Montgomery and coach Chris Collins and a much-needed insight into the positive side of college sports represent the two most visible angles. However, the news reveals something much more universal, which is just how many things have to go right for Montgomery’s narrative to have unfolded as it did.
(Montgomery given scholarship as video goes viral)
The first and most obvious of these is a strong work ethic. As a hopeful walk-on, Montgomery actually didn’t make the team his freshman year. Instead he was a member of the practice squad for the women’s team. Through those practices, hard work and sheer determination, Montgomery tried out again and made the team his sophomore year.
Once on the team, his efforts only increased as he improved the elements of his game. His dedication to the team and to his craft, in every game, meeting and practice, paid some handsome dividends. Today, Collins calls him “our best perimeter defender,” which is no small praise. In an increasingly cynical world, James Montgomery reminds us all what some sweat and elbow grease can accomplish.
However, this is not only a story about hard work. As inspirational as Montgomery’s efforts have been, it’s easy to overlook all of the other aspects that ultimately went into his scholarship. Unfortunately, doing so would be a mistake, no matter how nice that explanation may make us feel.
Montgomery has put in an immense amount of work; nobody in their right mind would deny that. However, his determination often overshadows something else he has — raw talent and a genetic predisposition. Although I’m personally of the opinion that genetic advantages are as much a source of pride as hard work, many people disagree, seeing such inherent advantages as unfair. Regardless, one look at him and it’s hard to overlook the fact that he’s different from many people.
The first indication is you almost certainly would have to crane your neck up to get a good look at him. That’s because, at 6’4”, Montgomery towers over the majority of us. Just as important, some of his muscles are bigger than my face. Though it’s true that any of us can work out and lose weight, gain muscle mass and improve our health, it’s equally true that our bodies are all different. Try as I might, the composition of my muscle cells just don’t enable me to develop Hulk-like muscles, my blood will only carry so much oxygen without enrichment, and the cowlick on my head will only be so high off the floor. As a result, people like me could practice and become terrific 3-point shooters, and we could develop elite free-throw percentages, but we’ll never have the mass needed to crash the boards, defend another player, set up an effective pick, or do anything that a good basketball player should be able to do.
Just as importantly, those results have to be realized by someone who can reward them. James Montgomery is currently a senior. That means he was on the team for two years before, working just as much as he does today. He’s long been a valuable asset to the team, that isn’t somehow new.
Just as Montgomery’s scholarship depended on a genetic advantage that was taken advantage of and exacerbated through immense commitment to basketball, it also required Collin’s ability to notice this and work to reward it. Ultimately Montgomery could have been the best player in the school’s history, but he wouldn’t have the authority to give himself a penny.
Of course, none of this diminished the importance of Montgomery’s hard work. His scholarship is just that: his. He’s more than earned it, and nothing anyone says can take it away from him or diminish his accomplishment. His dedication is an excellent source of inspiration for all of us, whether we’re hoping to join a team ourselves, elbow our way into politics or finance or find a cure for cancer. Whatever it may be, we cannot underestimate the importance of hard work. But it’s just as important to remember the equal importance of natural potential and opportunities provided or enlarged by peers who are willing to help you, whether in the form of telling you to tuck in your elbow more or working with you on your resume. When all those factors line up just right, you might find yourself in a position similar to Montgomery’s one day, and I bet that’s a pretty good position to be in.