Here's what playing college basketball taught these Coke employees about work, life and March Madness

It’s Sweet Sixteen time. Picture: Getty Images

March Madness, the annual US college basketball elimination tournament, is down to the skinny end, with 16 teams left vying for a final four berth.

It’s a huge couple of weeks for players vying for an NBA career when the Draft is held in three months. Outperform your regular season averages in the pressure cooker of the NCAA tournament and you’re likely to push yourself up the Draft correspondingly.

And off the court, fans embrace the “bracket” phenomenon as a national pastime, similar to footy tipping here in Australia.

At Coca-Cola headquarters, the editor of Coke’s blog Journey, Jay Moye, tossed out a request on the company’s social network calling for any former college players in its ranks.

Impressively, he got eight and said there were “likely many more we were unable to interview in time” for a post about what it was like playing college basketball, how it prepared them for life and work and what March Madness still means to them.

Here’s an edited version of their replies which Moye kindly allowed us to run. You can read their full stories over at Coca-Cola Journey.

Jason McAlpin

Position: Brand Manager, Atlanta, Georgia.
Years at Coke: 3
College: University of Maryland (2006-2008)
Position: Shooting guard/small forward

What basketball taught me: I think the biggest skill basketball instilled in me is the ability to be mentally tough. We all hit challenging spots in our career. What basketball teaches you is that you have to put setbacks behind you and move on. When playing, you’re going to turn the ball over, miss a defensive rotation or take a bad shot (and if you’re me, you’ll do that multiple times a game), but you quickly learn that the game continues and does not wait for you to feel bad for yourself and then recover.

Why March Madness is the best: I remember playing in the tournament (in fact, against a young Stephen Curry while he was still at Davidson). Those games mean so much – they’re the culmination of months of hard work, weightlifting, sprints, running stairs, 5am workouts, studying film and more. To see guys realize their dreams, see their hard work pay off, represent their schools with pride, and give more than they thought they ever could is really exciting to see and be a part of.

Tiffany Stone

Position: Director, Customer Marketing, Atlanta, Georgia.
Years at Coke: 18
Schools: College of William & Mary (1987-1991). The WNBA hadn’t debuted yet – that’s how old I am!
Position: Post

What basketball taught me: I love the camaraderie and trust of a true team and the critical importance of each player selflessly playing their role to achieve success. I think participation in sports helps prepare women for so many things off the court – teamwork, focus, how to lead/influence a group with diverse personalities, time management, how to compete, perseverance, how to win and lose gracefully, and the importance of attitude in all pursuits.

Why March Madness is the best: You play the regular season to get to the post season where everyone is 0-0 again, no matter what happened in the regular season. I also love the idea of “survive and advance” as you see athletes’ true characters come out in the face of a season being over. You learn a lot about who can step up to lead under pressure. Plus, anything can happen on any given night, and that’s the beauty of sports and competition.

Chris King

Position: Project Manager, Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR), Atlanta, Georgia.
Years at Coke: 16
Schools: Barat College of DePaul (Lake Forest, Illinois)
Position: Point guard and shooting guard

What basketball taught me: Teamwork. Strategy. Leadership, when to lead and when to follow. Planning and performing under pressure.

Why March Madness is the best: Being from a small town in Oklahoma, and playing for a small university, I typically root for the underdog during March Madness.

I am forever connected to basketball as it’s my first love and has helped me in many ways to this day. Both my wife and I played college ball and to this day we still coach youth league teams in Decatur, Georgia and play in adult leagues.

LaRita ‘L.A.’ Spencer

Position: District Sales Manager, Atlanta, Georgia.
Years at Coke: 10
College: Central Arizona College (1997-1999) and Auburn University (1999-2001). Played professionally for Miami Sol, Germany and Switzerland (2001-2004).
Position: Point guard

What basketball taught me: Sports taught me to be competitive in everything I do, how to interact and communicate with people, how to collaborate as a team, and to never settle for average. Sports fostered collective thinking and helped me harness my planning and delegation skills. It also gave me confidence to take on multiple tasks at one time. Since transitioning into corporate America, sports has given me an advantage in engaged thinking and how to devise strategies to win. When at work, I decide whether to take an offensive stance or a defensive one. I judge my strategies and modify accordingly each day. This definitely involves clever thinking, which comes naturally to me from a sports background.

Why March Madness is the best: As a former Division 1 athlete, March Madness to me means “Win or Go Home”. This is a time of year when anyone can win regardless of how they finished the regular season. You are on stage competing and the entire country is watching. You lay everything you’ve worked hard for on the hardwood.

I get anxious every year when March Madness comes around. I have a ritual I follow which consists of waiting three days after Selection Sunday to fill out my brackets, because this gives me enough time to read up and watch sports analysts offer advice.

George Schell

Position: Chief Marketing Counsel, Coca-Cola North America
Years at Coke: 19
Schools: University of California at Santa Barbara (1976-1978)
Position: Forward

What basketball taught me: The biggest benefit is understanding the value of teamwork and of understanding your role. The best teams are the ones whose roles are clearly defined and teammates are accepting of and stay in their roles. The key is understanding there is more power in team achievement than individual achievement.

Why March Madness is the best: March Madness is a great time to see how the better teams deal with pressure and how the challenger teams sometimes play way above their previous achievements. It’s an exciting time to be a fan because so many folks are focused on it… it becomes infectious.

Lisa Stoppenbach

Position: Senior National Account Executive
Years at Coke: 27
Schools: University of Missouri (1977-1981)
Position: Strong forward and post

What basketball taught me: Hard work, and a commitment to learning and getting stronger in whatever your endeavor will deliver success, and a positive attitude will create endless opportunities and open doors.

Why March Madness is the best: I love March Madness and the opportunity to watch so many talented teams play their hearts out, and see the extraordinary talent among these young men and women.

Playing college sports is one of the most difficult and challenging things I have ever done, and the sacrifices and work were all worth it and I would most definitely do it again!

Alan Rainge

Position: Executive Support Manager, Office of the Chairman, Atlanta, Georgia.
Schools: University of Maryland (1991-1993)
Position: Point guard

What basketball taught me: Basketball taught me to be keep improving myself in ways I can measure. I learned to work hard and do things the right way.

Why March Madness is the best: March Madness is the best time of year because this is when dreams come true.

From the time when you were young, you worked so hard to get the opportunity to play on the big stage with a chance to win the NCAA title.

You hope to make history and be a part of one of the best sports game ever played.

Mike Winters

Position: Senior National Sales Executive, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Years at Coke: 21
Schools: University of New Mexico (1983-1987)
Position: Guard and forward

What basketball taught me: I learned the importance of teamwork, time management, perseverance, and mastering the fundamentals. I learned to prepare mentally and adjust my game plan as needed. The skills/values I learned playing basketball all transferred over to my professional career. The college basketball experience teaches you to work with many different individuals from very diverse backgrounds. You learn to balance the demands of your sport with the demands of school to achieve what you want from both experiences.

Why March Madness is the best: I take vacation the first and second day of the tournament to watch the games. It’s an exciting time to be a fan because the tournament is a “one-and-done” format, not a best of five or a best of seven series. This format makes it possible for the underdog to upset the favoured team.

Other stories from Coca-Cola Journey:
Inside the Birth and Boom of the Bracket Challenge

7 March Madness Facts: Fans’ Guide to the Big Dance

Sprite Brings Back Popular Flavor Created With LeBron James

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