It was early in the college basketball season when Jesse Shaw turned on the TV. Michigan State was playing, and the South coach noticed the word on their practice jersey: Ubuntu.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I guess, in a way, that’s kind of a cool thing. … My team knows I didn’t steal it from them.”
Shaw came across the word at the end of last season and used it as his team’s vision statement this year.
He says it is an old African philosophy that roughly translates to ‘I am because we are.’
“I just like how it translates into certainly a team climate, team atmosphere,” Shaw said. “Ironically, there’s a lot of different, like loose words, that coincide with it. Respect. Helpfulness. Sharing. Community. Trust. Caring. Unselfishness. A lot of these words are wrapped up in what Ubuntu is.
“Another thing I found was a quote: ‘a person is a person through other people.’ And ‘my humanity is bound up in yours.’
“So we’re really trying to draw upon that.”
Shaw’s nephew made a wooden plaque with Ubuntu on it as well as ‘I am because we are’ and the coach has it in his office to remind his players.
Perhaps it had a little something to do with Marcell Drone averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game this season.
Shaw says although Drone is talented, the phrase ‘I am because we are’ means his teammates have to work collectively to make him the best player.
“He can’t take the ball out of bounds and throw it in to himself, somebody else has to do that,” Shaw said. “He can’t dribble it up the court, that’s not quite his strength. Somebody has to screen or space for him, and then somebody has to handle pressure and throw a pass to him.
“So all those things have to happen before he really touches the ball on offense. He’s a good player, and one that we’re going to lean on, but he’s only going to be as good as we are collectively around him. He can’t do it all himself, he needs the team.”