FLINT, Michigan — I checked out a scrimmage tonight between two of the top JUCO basketball teams in the state. You might be a little surprised that I’ve cast Mid-Michigan as one of the state’s best, but it’s an up-and-coming program that is deeper than most of the JUCO teams I saw last season. MMCC is not a member of the MCCAA just yet, but they
can compete with anyone in this league. The Lakers are fresh off a strong performance at a preseason jamboree at Vincennes.
Mott, the odds-on favorite every year to win the league, has a roster brimming with talent from across the country. Coming off a 33-3 season season in which the Bears finished second nationally, Steve Schmidt has a stable of young guards that you have to see to believe.
The group is headlined by sophomore transfer John Taylor. I didn’t believe the early returns on the 6-1 guard from Chicago until I saw him with my own eyes. I was told that he had more talent than Mott’s last Chicago-bred All-American (Jeremie Simmons, Ohio State), and I simply could not believe it. (For Mott fans, it’s basically sacrilege.) Well, he does.
Clearly there is more to evaluating a player than just talent. I’m not going to be so presumptive as to say he’s a better basketball player than Jeremie Simmons, who was the national player of the year as a sophomore, but his talent is immense.
Taylor’s first five 3-point attempts didn’t even hit the rim. His lefty stroke is just as pure coming off screens as it is off the dribble. He actually bears a striking resemblance to former Mott guard Sam Burton (who also wore #2). Burton got after it on the defensive end and could attack the basket with the best of them. Taylor, however, has significantly more ammo in his offensive arsenal. I just don’t know how anyone will be able to guard him man-to-man.
Another potential stud on the roster is also a 6-1 guard. Ralph Eason came to Mott by way of Huntsville, Alabama. He’s a player in the mold of former Mott guard TJ Cameron, but he’s much more explosive to the rim.
The bright spot for Mott, in my opinion, was former Flint Northern standout Shaquille Smith. The 5-9 guard proved worthy of significant playing time this season. He’s really crafty with the ball, uber-quick and still capable of hitting those quick-stop pull-ups he made throughout his high school career.
Mott will lean heavily on two strong forwards in the 6-foot-5 range to hold down the paint this season — Chavis Mattison (Anderson, SC) and Eugene Gipson (Humble, TX). I would not, however, be surprised to see the Bears go with four guards for many of their offensive sets.
Mott’s tallest player is 6-8 sophomore Robert Littlejohn (Memphis, TN). He’s a finesse big man who showed some ability late in the scrimmage including a strong post move and finish. Schmidt has to find a niche for Littlejohn, who has some native ability as a shooter.
It’s hard to gauge where Mott is with nine new players on the roster, but I don’t think 30 wins is out of the question. It never is.
Major kudos to the coaching staff at MMCC for getting this program off the ground in such a short period of time. Doug Brotherton and his staff have hit the ground running and clearly understand what it takes to build a solid program. A lot of coaches would have no interest in scrimmaging Mott and the Lakers were more than competitive.
Let me throw out a few names: I was impressed by the play of 6-5 sophomore forward Jake Blake. He’s an energy guy with sneaky athleticism.
It was also good to see a couple familiar faces from a few years back. Williams Sams, a local kid who transferred to MMCC from Lake Superior State, starts at the shooting guard spot. And while he still doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well from deep, he’s quick and very athletic. He seems to have more of a competitive streak today than he did when he was in high school.
Another player I used to enjoy watching in high school has also grown up. De’Ondra Callahan, a 6-0 guard from Lansing Christian, has improved quite a bit since his days with the Garza boys and Peter Bunn. He’s turned into a very strong and physical guard.
Putting my local bias aside, the Lakers’ top threat at guard is probably 6-2 sophomore Sheldon Loman (Detroit Kettering).
MMCC is going to knock off a few top-tier JUCOs this season. Mark it down.