Malik Albert has done just about everything that Mott’s Mount Rushmore of players have done, save for one: and it’s the one that matters most to his coach.
“We’ve had players before win national awards, players like Kevin Tiggs, Jeremie Simmons and (most recently) John Taylor,” said Mott head coach Steve Schmidt after Albert was named the NJCAA’s National Player of the Week on Thursday. “Those guys have something that Malik doesn’t — a national championship ring. I’ve said that before. It’s not a knock on Malik, but it’s a true statement.”
Fortunately, Albert’s career is not yet over.
Schmidt said he was getting a little impatient, having nominated his star player for the award several times this season. His lead assistant, Carl Jones, joked that he should probably should have taken the hint.
“There was no way I was giving up,” Schmidt said, whose no. 5-ranked Bears are 21-5 this season. “Some people may think that I don’t go to bat for my players, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I do more fighting for my players than most people would ever realize. Not only is this a great, well-deserved accomplishment for Malik, it’s also great for the team.”
Albert earned the honor not just for an excellent performance in a win over no. 8-ranked Oakland on Saturday, but for his body of work this season. The sophomore is averaging 25 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game through 26 games.
He is the focal point of Mott’s offense; when opposing coaches scheme to stop one player, he is that one player. They haven’t had much success.
Albert came to Mott fresh off leading Detroit King to the Public School League championship. He had a reputation in high school for being a great athlete and scorer, and he’s certainly lived up to the hype in his two seasons in Flint. He came to Mott as the best player in a recruiting class that wasn’t as good as advertised; but, Malik was better than we thought.
When I asked him earlier in the season to name a player he thinks his game resembles, he didn’t hesitate.
“I think my game is similar to Manny Harris,” said Albert of the former University of Michigan shooting guard. “Even our body frames are kind of similar, very slim. We both shoot the ball pretty well and are very athletic.”
Albert has been good enough, as it’s turning out, to be considered among the best players in the Schmidt era at Mott. He’s more than just a great athlete and, like Harris, he’s improving his all-around game.
“We give Malik a lot of freedom, but the numbers speak for themselves,” Schmidt said. “He has scored consistently and he’s getting a lot of assists. He can do more than just score. He’s a better passer than you think. He’s right up there with some of my best guards.”
By the numbers, Taylor is in the conversation with former All-Americans like Taylor and Simmons, players who, Schmidt likes to point out, didn’t win a lot of weekly awards.
“Whether those guys won awards during the season didn’t matter too much,” he said. “By the end of the season, they were National Players of the Year and champions.”
Quiet as its kept, Albert is within striking distance of surpassing Taylor as the most prolific scorer in the Schmidt era. With strong performances in Mott’s final three games of the regular season, he’ll do just that.
This was bound to be a special year for Albert after starting the season averaging an eye-popping 33 points per game. He has scored over 30 points in nine games. And in those nine games, no emotion — just big points and big wins.
Albert has a reputation for indifference, a cold and stoic approach to the game that keeps defenders guessing. He couldn’t be more different than his fiery and emotional coach if he tried.
“I wish he’d play with more emotion, but that’s his demeanor,” Schmidt said. “It does get frustrating at times, but he’s working on it. Even though we’re very different, we have a lot of respect for each other.
“I know he’s competitive; I know he wants to win and I know he’s about the team. People might not know that he cares. I know he cares about the program.”
Right now, coach Schmidt and Albert are focused on getting back to the NJCAA National Tournament next month. And even though Albert is getting a lot attention from college coaches, he’s taking it all in stride.
“He has some work to do to graduate, but opportunities will not be a problem for him,” Schmidt said. “These things will take care of themselves when the time is right. I just want to make sure he’s in a position to get his degree. And he’s in a much better position now than he was a year ago.”
Albert has received offers recently from high-major conferences, including the Big 12 and SEC, but Schmidt was quick to point out that there have been numerous mid-major schools who have been recruiting him since he was in high school.
Once Albert signs, he will join a large fraternity of former Bears who have gone on to compete at the highest level of college basketball. Players like Simmons (Ohio State), Rashi Johnson (Michigan State), Jerel Allen (Florida State) and Terrence Watson (Ole Miss).
“We pride ourselves on not just winning championships, but preparing young men for the next level,” Schmidt said, whose teams have won four national titles since 2003. “I think our track record speaks for itself.”