We’re all familiar with the old, cliche saying “patience is a virtue” right? The more I age, the more I begin to really conceptualize the actual weight that statement holds. I’m a victim of this mentality but I love instant gratification. It’s quick, painless and provides an immediate sense of accomplishment. Who doesn’t like that, honestly?
I want to share a story. Let’s take an athlete from West Virginia who knew he wanted to surround himself with the sport of basketball. Out of high school he desired opportunities to play at a collegiate level. He started off playing for a local military academy near his hometown.
He ended up securing an opportunity to play for a DI school, but for the most part, something wasn’t right. He was putting in the work but wasn’t necessarily seeing that work translate into success. He’d been there for three years at this point and was considering looking at other opportunities to fix the situation he was in at the moment. Something happens in that fourth year. That DI athlete goes from an 18-14 winning team to a 25-8 winning team. That athlete ends up being a conference champion. That athlete ends up making it to the NCAA tournament with a Mid-major team for the first time in his life. That athlete ends up signing a pro basketball contract in England.
That is the story of Craig Ponder, whose passion lies with basketball. Craig’s story highlights work ethic and patience throughout his career in basketball. Though there were times where he could have moved to something more immediate to change his current circumstances, Craig let his diligence win the long-term battle.
His end goal through all of this is to still be surrounded by the sport that he loves and ultimately coach a basketball team of his own. We touched base with Craig to learn more about his endeavors in basketball a how patience got him to where he is today.
How did you first get introduced to basketball?
I first was introduced to basketball by it being probably the biggest neighborhood activity all of the friends my brother and I grew up with. Our childhood friend, Kevin Saunders, would usually have the whole neighborhood in his backyard playing massive games of Twenty-One. It was that, or a collection of Two-on-Two, Three-on-Three, or Four-on-Four games. He only had half of a court built so it would have been hard to run Fives on it. The court was sick too.
His Dad was always a crafty guy, and he painted over the cement this Chicago Bulls themed floor. It was right around the time MJ was finishing up his championship run and heading to the Wizards, so you could imagine the excitement that we had as kids playing on that court. There would be times where you would have 20-30 kids hovered around the court. Everybody would come to play and nobody wanted to lose, which made it so much fun.
What real world skills or traits have you acquired the most out of your basketball career?
I think the biggest real world skills that I’ve acquired throughout my basketball career are teamwork, effective communication, and perseverance. No matter what you do in life, unless you work for yourself, teamwork will always be the core to success. It’s truly amazing what a group can accomplish when everyone shares the same vision and supports each other equally and critically. I say effective communication because everything is communicative based; from meetings, to daily interaction with coworkers, to even sending out emails. Everyone can communicate, but not everyone can communicate effectively. Things like your body language, tone of voice, or verbiage can make or break the way that your message is received. Basketball has taught me you have to be able to adjust to different people when communicating with them.
Last but not least, perseverance is key to accomplishing success in the real world. A lot of people don’t know of what I went through during my basketball career at Wilmington. My first year was off to a great start. We had eight incoming freshmen, which made it a lot easier to bond with because we all came in with one common goal: turn the program around. We all started getting acquainted with each other as well as the college lifestyle, but there were still things to come that I couldn’t hardly foresee being a few weeks in. I was playing well throughout the beginning, and ended up earning a starting position at guard.
There were three freshman who started at the time, and it was a privilege to be able to be one of them. I had an lingering ankle injury that had happened early in preseason practices, but the excitement of having an opportunity to play college basketball made me naive as to how bad that injury actually was. A few games go by and I had to stop playing due to the fact that I wasn’t the player that I was capable of being.
I decided to get surgery. Sitting out that year may have been the best thing, mentally, for me that could have ever happened. By the end of the first year, as I said before, I could never foresee what was to come. I got injured, we had a losing season, and at the end of the season a few guys started to transfer. Fast forward a year, and I have a great freshman red-shirt season. I’m thinking for the upcoming season that I would be able to add on to what I had accomplished the previous year. Wrong.
I sat for the majority of the season and it was the first time in my basketball career that I didn’t play a single minute in a game. Fast forward another year, and we finally did a piece of what we sat out to do in the beginning; win a championship. We tied four ways with other teams for the regular season title so it wasn’t as special as what was to come.
Now, fast forward to the end of my senior year, and you can add another shared regular season title to my name, as well as a conference tournament championship. With that conference tournament championship came an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, which is every kid’s dream who plays college basketball. At the start of my career you would never think that my career could have ended the way it did. Everyone has their ups and down with work, with family, friends, and a lot of other things that come with life. The special people, and usually the most successful, are able to persevere through the storms, learn from them, and come back even stronger.
What goals have you set for yourself in the next few years?
A goal that I have set for myself in the next few years is to become a collegiate coach. I’ve spent so much time around the game of basketball that I couldn’t see my life without it in some shape or form. There comes a time in everyone’s playing career where you realize that your time is up. This could be for a variety of different reasons, but for me personally, I know that I can be more effective pursuing a coaching career than being on a team’s roster right now. I’ve always thought about being a coach, and being apart of helping or changing a kid’s life is also something that drew me in closer to wanting to become a coach.
Can you speak on how patience has played a huge role in your success?
Patience has played a tremendous role in my success. If it weren’t for patience and patience alone, I’m not quite sure that my collegiate career would have went the way it did. Through that second year that I was benched, I flirted with the idea of transferring after the first few games. The only thing that kept me patient was prayer and guidance. I talked with a lot of people that I looked up to during that time (my brother, Dave Yearwood, and Coach Keatts), and they all shared the same message: tough it out, and finish what you started. I could have easily went with what my mind was telling me and left abruptly, but I followed my heart and continued to stay patient through it all.
What’s the best message you can pass along to people who are finding their passion?
The best advice I have for anyone trying to find their passion is do whatever it is that gives you that flame inside of you. Some people get that fire from making an athletic play, some may get it from closing a deal with a company, selling a house, maybe even signing a new client to a firm. My point is everybody has something that they love to do, but not many people are willing to take the risks to fulfill that burning desire. I think our generations biggest problem is indecisiveness.
A lot of people don’t seek out what they truly want to do, and they can’t take what comes along with doing just that. With the way the world is today, there are so many influencers that create the illusion of overnight success. There are always going to be hurdles that you must overcome in whatever profession that you choose. Everyone compares their lives to what they see on social media, when everyone has different paths and purposes in life. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing or where you should be in your life. Do whatever makes you happy, follow your path, and embrace the journey of the path you choose.