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Leadership lessons learned from NCAA Tournament

Cincinnati Bearcats point guard Cashmere Wright sits on the bench near the end of their loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in their men's NCAA East Regional basketball game in Boston, Massachusetts, March 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

As the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament proceeds at full force, there are many things to watch: buzzer beating finishes, upsets, the ups and downs of following a favourite team. However, one other thing to watch, which can be the key to whether a team advances or goes home, is the role of the point guard position.

The point guard is the most valuable position on the basketball court, similar to the quarterback in football or the pitcher in baseball. Point guards set the tone for the game, acting as the coach on the floor, calling the plays that the offence and defence will execute, controlling the speed of the game , and setting up teammates for success.

One only need look back to last season to see a great point guard – Kemba Walker – who was a crucial member of the UConn Huskies' National Championship-winning team. Walker took control of the team during key moments of the Big East Conference Tournament and the NCAA Championship, and he embodied the underdog spirit of last year's UConn team.

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In a clear demonstration of the difference a good point guard can make, one can study Kendall Marshall and the University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels started the season with a disappointing 12-5 record; their woes culminated in mid-January following a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech. The team had been led by an inconsistent and sometimes ineffective point guard, so Head Coach Roy Williams made a change.

He started Marshall at point guard and the Tar Heels went 17-3 the rest of the season, making it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship, a feat that seemed unimaginable after the Georgia Tech loss.

Marshall has been the floor general in setting up his teammates to achieve success, for example leading the way for Tyler Zeller to become ACC Player of the Year. The question of hour will most likely be can freshman Stilman White or Justin Watts pick up the slack if the injured Marshall can't play?

So what does a great point guard do? The following are three key skills that distinguish championship-caliber point guards:

1.Set Your Teammates Up for Success – Leaders are measured by how well their team members perform, not just by their own individual performance. Great point guards are recognized more often for the great pass that allowed their teammate to make the emphatic dunk or knock down the big shot, rather than for making the shot themselves.

2.Set the Tone for Your Team – As a leader on the court, point guards such as Marshall set the tone for each play but also for the team. If Marshall senses that the team has low energy, he will be the one that must lead the way in revitalizing his teammates. If the game is getting too chaotic, the point guard is the one who slows things down in order to regain control. If a team has too many conflicting priorities, then it is up to the leader to call a timeout to set the key priorities in order to regain control of the agenda.

3.Translate the Play – During the NCAA Tournament games, one will often see the point guard coming up the court with a few fingers held up in the air, which tells the rest of his team the play chosen by the coach. In this way, the point guard is translating the play from the coach so that it is executed on the court.

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Over the next few weeks, one team will cut the nets down and claim the National Championship in New Orleans. In order to win this ultimate prize, the team must win six games against the best teams in the country.

There are many components that make up a championship run. One essential component is to have is a great point guard.

This leader will set the entire team up for success, dictate the tone of the squad and translate the coach's objectives on the court – a recipe for a National Championship and for success in business, as well.

Even though Devin Bigoness is a Project Director at Duke Corporate Education, he attended University at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke's archrival basketball program. It is certain that he will be watching the NCAA Tournament wearing a particular shade of blue, as will his wife and six-month-old son.

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