FLINT, Michigan — Roles have been reversed in one of the state’s best basketball rivalries, at least for now. Mott enters its game versus rival Lansing at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Flint as an underdog.
The rivalry, once dominated by Mott, is alive and well these days. Mott came up just shy of an upset over the Stars last month in Lansing, falling by three. Since then, however, Lansing has proven itself against the NJCAA’s best.
The Stars are winners of nine consecutive games including an impressive win over no. 1-ranked Schoolcraft. Lansing, under the direction of longtime coach Mike Ingram, has ascended to the no. 3 spot in the latest NJCAA national poll.
The upstart Bears (one returning player from last season) started the season unranked, but their 6-2 record has earned a no. 17 ranking in the poll.
This is rarefied air for Mott, one of the top JUCO programs in the country; historically, Mott hasn’t been an underdog against many.
Mott’s Hall of Fame head coach Steve Schmidt grew up in Lansing, graduated from Lansing Waverly and is a former assistant coach with the Stars. In fact, Schmidt and Ingram were both assistant coaches on the last Lansing squad to win a national title (1988). They both played at Central Michigan in the 1980s.
Between them, they have nearly 1,200 career wins.
Schmidt jokes about how the pair coached together before any of their current players were born.
“I’m really impressed by how Mike has evolved as a coach, how he gets his teams to buy in and execute his system,” Schmidt said. “I love the challenge of coaching against his teams. He works hard and I believe he’s one of the best coaches at our level in the country.”
Since 2009, Mott has won nine of its 12 games versus the Stars. In recent years, however, the games have been much more competitive. In the last two seasons, the teams have split (each winning at home).
With all due respect to Schoolcraft and Oakland, Mott and Lansing have been the premier programs in the MCCAA during the coaching tenures of Schmidt and Ingram. The programs have featured numerous big-time players, and championships, in recent years. Mott, by itself, has four national titles since 2003 and 18 All-Americans.
Lansing, for its part, always seems to have a bonafide stud on every roster — Nate Duhon, Muhammad El-Amin and Torian Harris to name a few from the past. This year, the Stars are led by sophomore guard Javon Haines. The former East Lansing High standout had been the best player in the MCCAA even before his 55-point explosion against Alpena. He is currently leading the NJCAA in scoring at just under 29 points per game.
Mott counters with an exciting young crop of guards and wings who can run the floor with anyone — including Lansing. The best of the bunch is freshman Diandre Wilson, a smooth combo guard who can create his own shot and score going to the basket. Wilson averages 21 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
In the first go-around, Mott actually held Haines to a season-low 10 points. Adams and Wilson combined for 48 points, but the Bears could not finish off a late rally.
The X factor for Mott is 6-5 sophomore transfer Jalen Adams. The former all-stater from Saginaw Arthur Hill played at D-1 St. Bonaventure last season. He has the pure talent to be the best player on the floor every game. He has only shown flashes so far this season, but most expect him to breakout in the very near future.
A new wrinkle for Mott is 6-6 sophomore transfer Mitchell Rubio, a local product who spent last season at City College of San Francisco. Rubio played in his first game on Saturday afternoon against Kalamazoo Valley. He made his presence felt almost immediately, scoring 13 points with six rebounds including two in the final minute to seal the victory.
Rubio brings size, athleticism and, most importantly, the ability to hit outside shots.
“Mitchell definitely makes us better,” Schmidt said.
Win or lose, the Bears are trending in the right direction. Schmidt has the horses to make a run this season. If he can hold this group together for two seasons, he will have something special.
“These kids are young, but this is going to be a good team once they get it figured out,” Schmidt said.
Listen to the game live on MRSN.us.