The Anatomy of the “Role Player”: Dewrell “JD” Tisdale Jr.

Posted: March 26, 2011 by Marcellus Miller in High School, Saginaw Valley League
By Marcellus C. Miller, Columnist
Great Lakes Hoops

The idea of being a “role player” has been vastly misappropriated and mistreated in my opinion over recent history and it is high time to get back to what it really means…well, at least to me.  Detroit Southeastern star and future MSU Spartan Brandon Kearney was just recently labeled as such in the class A semifinal game because he sacrificed offense for defense, deferred to a dominate teammate, and played a more heady game.  Um, someone help me find where the negative is in that?  However, because he was a Mr. Basketball candidate, many expected him to shoot 20 times and dominate the game offensively.  Did I mention his team won?  It is amazing the standards that some are held to versus others.  But it is astounding to me the negative connotation that being a role player has gotten. So, let’s examine it just a bit from a coach’s perspective.

Every coach on the planet wants role players.  Notice that I did not say players that operate in a role.  Those type of players are categorized by what they do well.  For example, former Frakenmuth star Brad Redford is a great shooter.  Current Mott Community College stud Doug Anderson is a great athlete/leaper.  Anthony Crater at the University of South Florida is a great passer.  MSU frosh Keith Appling was a great scorer in high school.  These are all luxuries to have, but do not epitomize a role player in my eyes.  They are all players who operate inside of a role.  What I mean is something different.  Players that a coach can call into their office or locker room before the game or practice and say to them, “This game I need you to shut down the opposing team’s best player.”  Then the next week say, “I need double-digit rebounds and points from you this game.”  The best role players can even change that role during the game.  The best example that I can think of is none other than Magic Johnson.  Many people understand that he played all five positions in the NBA championship game, but not many understand how each position required a mentality and role change.  No one has done it better on a bigger stage in my eyes.  Coaches appreciate these players more than anyone even knows because the flexibility they allow for is paramount.  If the starting PG gets hurt or in foul trouble in a big game, it is quite the luxury to be able to move the starting SF there is there backup is stronger than the backup PG.  Versatility is essential in the biggest of games.  Just ask the BYU coach who would have loved to see Jimmer Fredette turn into a creator when the 3-pt ball wasn’t falling (4-15).  However, he was stuck in his operation as a scorer and stayed there to the detriment of the team in that game.  There is one player on the high school level in mid-Michigan that I believe was the best role player this year, that is, Dewrell “JD” Tisdale Jr. of Flint Northern.

For background purposes, most of JD’s career early on was spent serving as a team’s undersized big man.  Playing alongside GB’s Jordan Fields, Beecher’s Monte Morris, Lapeer West’s Cullen Turczyn, and current teammate Richie Lewis with the Flint Affiliation AAU program, JD was generally left to fend for scraps on the blocks with the guard-heavy unit.  His freshman year at Northern was spent largely regulated to the bench, stuck between positions.  The summer that followed had him focusing on playing the PG and SG positions with the Mid Michigan Lakers AAU club.

Growing 3 full inches over the course of the summer and gaining some athleticism with it helped propel him into his sophomore year at Northern.  Entering the year with a chip on his shoulder from the previous year, JD showed immediately while dunking on a teammate during the tryout that this would be a different year.  He ended the year as the only Viking to start every game of the season, quite a contrast from the year before.  Playing his first full year on the wing, he was 4th on the team in scoring, 3rd in rebounding, 3rd in steals, 3rd in blocks, 2nd in deflections, and 4th in field goal percentage.  Not bad for a sophomore with little experience at the guard spot.  But what was most important for the team was his ability to adapt.

Early in the season with Northern’s top two leading scorers struggling to find rhythm, JD was asked to pick up more of the scoring duties.  When the backup PG suffered a knee injury, he had to do more ball handling as well.  In the second game of the year, he was asked to guard NW’s De’Ondre Parks due to him burying the team with his outside shots.  He did just that, holding him to 0 points in the quarter while guarding him.  That became a popular assignment for him over the course of the year.  Against TC West he was asked to take out their SG, who had already hit 6 three-pointers and was single-handedly keeping them in the game.  He locked him up and the result was Northern pulling away.  Carman’s Anton Wilson, SWA’s Marquez Pool, and Dow’s Blake Appell are other’s who had similar efforts after JD took over the assignment against them.  But his most impressive execution of the role player attribute was in the district semifinal game at Saginaw Arthur Hill against the host team.

Two days before the game, the staff found out that there starting 6’7″ center would be unavailable for the game.  Earlier in the season, they had already lost the backup for the duration of the year.  JD was asked to start his first playoff game where he would play a significant role at, you guessed it, the center position.  Oh yeah, matched up against 6’8″, super long athlete Jordan Hare and a Saginaw Arthur Hill team that Northern hadn’t beaten in recent history.  I am guessing that was not what he wanted to hear, but he didn’t let it phase him.  Back to anchoring a lineup that started 3 players 6’0″ or less, He managed double-digit scoring, 2nd on the team in rebounds for the game, 2nd in assists, got the team’s only block, but more importantly led a valiant effort to hold Hare to only 10 points (he had scored 28 in the first meeting).  No, he is not Magic, but the effort was reminiscent of his feat.

That is what a role player is all about.  Doing whatever is necessary to help make the team successful, whether they like it all the time or not.  There should not be any negative stigma attached to this label in my mind, but rather we should understand that many of the players that do go on to college to play (especially the bigger programs), will be asked to do just that when they get there.  That is sacrifice for the good of the cause.   Maurice Jones, Appling, Crater, Ray McCallum, etc. all met similar tasks from their respective college coaches just this year.  JD approached it with an open mind and can only grow from the experience.  That is the anatomy of the role player.

  1. gregjohnson says:

    I just watched Kearney “not show up as a role player or a star” in the Class A State Championship game. From what I’ve seen in two games on the biggest stage of his career….he’s not a MSU caliber player. I hope he proves me wrong.

  2. Gavin says:

    Yeah, i think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. I love role players and note them in almost anything i write. But kearney is neither a role player or a star. Two games and two forgettable performances. When percy was out with fouls, se needed kearney to be their go to guy, and he couldn’t pull it off. He’s just probably not that good.

    • Jared Field says:

      This is all about context. Being an MSU guy means something in this state. I mean, we’re talking about the state’s best program and one of the best in the nation.

      Thinking back, even role players at MSU were bonafide studs in high school. Austin Thornton was a stud in high school to use just one example.

      Kearney was 10-of-29 for the weekend and 0-for-8 from 3-point range. He had four total assists and, up until the last minute of today’s game, he had ONE personal foul in 59 minutes. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. That almost never happens to players who take defense seriously.

      • Patrick Hayes says:

        Haha. What a fickle bunch. So Kearney is not good enough for MSU b/c he played poorly at the Breslin this year. If I’m not mistaken, I believe I heard that EXACT same reasoning around this time last year when you said Dwaun Anderson was not good enough for MSU.

        Kearney was one of the five or six best seniors in the state this year, regardless of whether or not he played well the five or six times you watched him. They keep stats for a reason, and his stats were very good. His team was also very good, playing very good competition, and Percy Gibson undoubtedly had a lot to do with that success as well, but they wouldn’t have been at the Breslin without Kearney, even if his last two HS games weren’t great.

        I guess I just don’t see what the point of this “is he or isn’t he good enough” game is. I mean, is the ultimate goal to just be right? That’s what it seems like. You’re honestly telling me, that you can look at Kearney’s skillset and physical tools and say right now that you believe there’s no way he grows into any kind of impact player at MSU? He’s had a great high school career, played tough competition and won a lot of games. Honestly, all but only a handful of college prospects have holes in their game before they get to college. Kearney has to improve some things. But the kid has wanted to go to MSU since he started playing ball basically. He put in the work to achieve that goal. Why dog him for it? Maybe he won’t pan out there, but so what? That chance exists for every kid who goes to play any college sport at any level. Kearney is by all accounts a nice kid from a strong family who gets good grades and happens to be very physically gifted with his mix of size and athleticism. There’s a reason universities like Michigan State don’t hand out scholarships based on a small sample size of games. I’m sure they’ve done their homework on Kearney and feel like he’ll be a good fit in their system. And until he does something to prove otherwise, this whole discussion is really stupid.

      • Jared Field says:

        Why must you turn into Mr. Rogers every time we want to debate basketball? It’s a basketball site where we debate basketball. If I want to learn more about his family, I’ll register with

        I’m not dogging Kearney. I think he’s really talented. He has an abundance of physical tools. I’m questioning MSU’s recruiting. I think an elite program needs to get players who are better prepared for high-major basketball. It’s not like we’re talking about a sophomore here.

        And yeah, we did say that about Anderson. Notice we didn’t say it about guys like Neitzel, Green, Appling, Lucas, Summers, etc. How many times did you watch those guys in high school? When I watched those players when they were seniors, it was clear that they could help MSU right away. Kearney is certainly not at that level. I mean, he missed all of his eight 3-point attempts and air-balled three of them. I think shooting guards in high school that don’t shoot very well probably will struggle as shooting guards at the next level.

        Of course Kearney could grow into a great player. So could Zedric Sadler. That doesn’t mean he’s ready for MSU.

      • gregjohnson says:

        He didn’t even command the ball at crunch time or make any effort to will his team to win. Not saying he’s not a good athlete or not a talent….just expected so much more. First time I had ever seen him play. Not impressed, but; like I said “I hope he proves me wrong”.

      • Patrick Hayes says:

        You’re clearly not interested in debate. You’re interested in being told you’re right.

      • Jared Field says:

        Nah. I’m interesting in expressing opinions. Sometimes the opinions don’t sit well with the fans, sometimes they do. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. That’s the nature of opinions.

        Do I want my opinions to be proven right over time? Sure, I guess I do. But that’s not why I give them. It’s fun to debate/discuss basketball with people who have opinions. It’s not as much fun with the “he could be something someday” crowd. You could say that about anybody. Right now, he doesn’t look like an elite high school basketball player. I think three straight lackluster performances in the three biggest games of his career are notable, especially considering how future Spartans have fared in the past — Neitzel, Green, Appling, Lucas and even Suton to a lesser extent. I simply don’t understand how some people have such low expectations for a major recruit. I mean, if you believe the stats that you’ve cited for his senior season, then he was well below his season averages in every facet in those three pivotal games.

        As for Dwaun Anderson, I’ve been pretty clear in my opinion on him: He does not have a high-major skillset right now, but I understand why MSU offered him. Skills can be honed, but players with his athletic talent do not come around every year. He’s an elite athlete.

  3. Jared Field says:

    Love JD, by the way. He could really be something if he stays committed.

    He has a real knack for passing the ball. He needs to keep working on that shot though.

    • Marcellus Miller says:

      JD definitely needs to keep working on that shot and his strength and always ball-handling…no one can get enough ball handling. While I mentioned Kearney in the piece, the purpose had nothing to do with him since the project idea came weeks ago. I just don’t want the idea of role player to be looked at as a negative the way it is now…as coaches, we love ’em!

  4. JM says:

    I saw a top 30 recruit named sam thompson from chicago whitney young play in person a couple weeks ago and his team lost in what i believe was equivalent to illinois regionals. He did get in early foul trouble but i dont think he even scored a point in the game nor did he try to take over with the game in what ended up being a 2pt game. He reminded me physically of Kearney — 6’6-6’7 and very long and lean. I doubt Thad Matta is gonna pull his scholarship because he had an off night and I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be a pretty good player if he’s going to OSU

    • muthguy1 says:

      I like your article and agree with what you are saying.

      I think it’s a matter of the definition of the term “role player.” You are talking about a versatile player and praising the unusually talented player who is good at all facets of the game and can help a team by focusing on one role when the team really needs it.

  5. muthguy1 says:

    Sorry, for some reason, I could not get any more in my previous post. Most of the time, I see the term “role player” used to describe a player of limited talent who excels, or at least is able to do passably, one particular thing in basketball.

    I love your article and wish there were more “role players” of the sort Marcellus describes. Nowadays, it seems that people specialize on a position and forget that basketball is a fun game that requires a lot of skills.

    • Marcellus Miller says:

      Thanks…I get the feeling that kids get labeled early on as shooters or scorers and forget about playing defense. Or we see a tall kid and assume the best place for them is in the post so they never learn guard skills for college. It takes a ton of time to nurture all-around talent…unfortunately, not many people want to invest it…

  6. Kelly Fields says:

    I loooooooooooooooooove J.D. and am personally blessed to have known him as a player, student and son from another mother. He is a coachable and considerate of his coaches and team mates. Even more important, he is a really good kid that deserves the recognization for his role, on and off the court. Nice article!

  7. G Mill says:

    Much luv for the article and for JD. I have seen him grow more and more each year as others have either stayed the same or gotten worse. If he continues to have that work ethic and listens and works on the things he needs to he will give Flint something to be proud of these next 2 years and beyond..

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