Visiting Author Day: Jay Bilas

A Good Man Shares Great Messages

New York Times bestselling author and well-known ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas made a special trip to Avon Old Farms on Thursday, September 28, as the featured speaker for the 2017 Visiting Author Program.

Each year, one book is carefully chosen as the all-school reading requirement. The story's message must exemplify our own school's motto, Aspirando et Perseverando, to aspire and persevere. This summer, the boys of Avon all read Toughness, by Jay Bilas – a book that explored the concept of developing strength and grit – both on and off the court.

Bilas has a diverse background that has provided him with multiple opportunities to understand toughness. He played college basketball for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University, from which he later earned his law degree and became a practicing lawyer. He played professional basketball in Europe for two years and then shifted his role to that of coach – all before becoming a popular analyst on ESPN's coverage of college basketball. Bilas has published one book, is a motivational speaker, and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, once playing an alien cop in the 1990 film Dark Angel.

For a group of high school students, Bilas's book applies strong messages of perseverance to a topic with which they could relate: sports. And although Bilas has personally focused on basketball, he used examples in his book from a variety of sports and included both men's and women's teams, making his core messages even stronger.

Having already read the book and familiarized themselves with Bilas, students who had the honor of meeting with Bilas in small groups came fully prepared and loaded with questions. What do you think of parents exploiting the athletic talents of their children? What do you think about LaVar Ball after the way he treated that female official in a game last spring? What do you think will happen with the FBI's current investigation of the NCAA? The questions came quickly and without any prodding from English teachers.

Through the process of three different Q&A sessions with students, a few themes in Bilas's responses came to the surface:

  1. Sometimes, when you're working on something big, you need to put it down for a while and come back later with a fresh perspective.
  2. Concentrate on what you're doing right now; focus on what's in front of you – not the things that are coming later.
  3. Prepare thoroughly, so when it comes time to execute, you're rested, ready, and confident.
  4. Don't worry about getting there first, just focus on one step at a time and finish strong.

In a time when conflict is often in the news – especially focused on the sports arena – Bilas was able to share his insight with the Men of Avon in a clear, professional, and relatable manner. But, at the end of the day, Bilas also wanted his audience of students to see their bright future:

"I am 54, and I am making the most of every day, every moment, because I know I'm closer to the finish line than I am to the starting line," he said. "You all are closer to the starting line and have a lot more life in front of you than I do. Start making the most of every moment now. Have the same urgency to make things count as I do now."

The Visiting Author Program at Avon Old Farms School is in its 17th year, bringing notable authors such as Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat, and Steven Callahan, author of Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, to campus to inspire our boys. The program is generously funded by the Parents of Avon who raise money through the annual event, The Blue Blazer Ball.