Cincinnati Enquirer – Updated by John F Murray – June 3, 2024 – John Eckberg – Crosstown Shootout highlight is when underdog wins prize – Mike Zilliox turned his XU hat around backward, then ambled out onto the floor at halftime at the Crosstown Shootout basketball game between University of Cincinnati and Xavier in January.

He was one of three picked from the Cintas Center crowd to attempt the improbable: a lay-up, a foul shot, a three-pointer and a half-court shot – and to make all the shots within 24 seconds.

The winner was promised a two-year lease on a new Chevrolet Tahoe.

Keep in mind that top college hoops players will usually miss most of these shots: one of 10 lay-ups, two of 10 foul shots, six of 10 shots from the field, seven of 10 three-pointers and just about every half-court shot they will ever attempt.

Zilliox, a former No. 1 tennis player for Xavier, didn’t care about those stats because he figured they didn’t apply to him.

No matter that he hadn’t picked up a basketball in six months and that the last time he did launch one, it was in his backyard, where the hoop is 9½ feet from the ground, not a regulation 10 feet.

While he waited for the first participant to shoot – and fail – Zilliox, 34, was optimistic, focused and brimming with confidence.

“I thrive in those kinds of situations,” Zilliox said, remembering a decade back to when his tennis match would determine whether the entire Xavier tennis team would win or lose. That is pressure. This, by comparison, was a lark.

Did he choke? Did his hands get clammy? Did his breathing get labored? None of the above.

The West Chester resident drained all the shots and because of that, his family’s time on the highway has changed for the good. His 3-year-old daughter, Olivia, loves having a built-in DVD player for her favorite movie, Shrek. Zilliox and his wife, Tammy, appreciate the cutting-edge sound system and how the group Bare Naked Ladies sounds on it.

Their take, after paying $4,000 in taxes for the “gift,” is $12,000

“Really, I never thought about winning,” Zilliox said. “I just wanted to do better than the guy who went before me.”

One onlooker, Ron Joseph, president of event sponsor Montgomery Chevrolet, watched with keen interest, knowing Zilliox’s good fortune would bring attention to the dealership.

Joseph had the presence of mind to take out a $1,100 insurance policy so that his dealership would not be out the expense of the lease on the $47,000 Tahoe. When Zilliox made the shot, it turned that insurance premium into gold.

“The marketing value of the event was so much greater when you have people talking about the guy who made the basket,” Joseph said.

But the workplace lesson, aside from Joseph’s smart marketing strategy, is what Zilliox brought to the competition.

Performing under pressure, finding focus in a chaotic situation, wooing a little Lady Luck – that’s what most workers and executives want every day from their job, according to John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based performance psychologist who advises professional athletes and others on achievement under stress.

He reviewed a video of Zilliox’s shots and offered up some observations.

“He was smiling, relaxed, steady, playful, calm, poised, fluid in his movements and confident,” Murray said. “He looked like he was having fun. And that is the essence of great focus.”

(Shaded Box) Perfomance pressure and a hoops ‘zone’

Grace under pressure is almost always about focus, says performance psychologist John F. Murray.

Murray reviewed a video of West Chester’s Mike Villiox recently making four shots in a row – a lay-up, foul shot, three-pointer and half-court shot – and concluded:

The background music helped. “The last shot was made at the same time the music was reaching a climax – good instincts on his part,” Murray said.

The crowd helped thanks to a phenomenon called social facilitation. “And he is the kind of guy who thrives in situations others might perceive as pressure,” Murray said.

Villiox had luck on his side. “That ball will not fall more than 30 percent of the time even if shot by an NBA player,” Murray said, “so he was, indeed, fortunate.”

Villiox managed, too, to get himself in a hoop zone. “The basket seemed like it was as wide as a swimming pool,” Murray said.

Villiox said: “I wanted to remain cool.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.