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Summer Reading Author Jay Bilas Shares Thoughts on Toughness

Story and photos by Linda Hogan
Woodberry Forest School students and coaches were treated to a visit with Jay Bilas, former college basketball player and current college sports analyst, on September 11, 2019. Every student had read Mr. Bilas’s memoir, Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court, as the headmaster’s summer reading selection.

Mr. Bilas immediately won the hearts of his audience by opening his talk with a video he had recorded before a previous version of The Game against rival Episcopal High School, urging the Tigers to victory. He went on to illustrate his definition of true goal setting with examples elicited from student athletes and stories from his time playing for and working with Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Winning games, capturing championships, or beating a rival, Mr. Bilas said, “are destinations, not goals. Outcome-oriented goals won’t help you work harder today.” He advised students to make athletic, academic, or personal goals more effective by adding the word “together” at the end. “We’re not going to play hard—we’re going to play hard together.”

During the question-and-answer session following Mr. Bilas’s talk, he answered several theoretical questions about his theory of toughness. Some had more specific queries, wondering, for example, who Mr. Bilas judged to be the best Duke player of all time.*

Jay Bilas has been a color commentator for ESPN since 1995. He earned an undergraduate degree and a law degree from Duke University and maintains a litigation practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives. Mr. Bilas has been nominated for five Emmy awards and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. His memoir, Toughness, was published in 2014, and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. Jay Bilas’s visit to Woodberry Forest was facilitated by Frank Edwards ’88.

*Jay Bilas’s answer: “Excluding me? Grant Hill … Christian Laettner … and Zion is pretty good."
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