FLINT, Michigan – More often than not, winning isn’t about height or hype, but something you won’t find in a preseason publication or online message board.
What’s going to separate the 2013-14 Mott Community College Bears, currently ranked no. 2 in the NJCAA national poll, will be leadership – on and off the court.
Last season’s team had the talent, the size, the depth and nearly every other ingredient needed to win it all – save for one.
“Already one of last year’s weaknesses (team leadership) is looking like it will be one of this year’s strengths,” said Mott head coach Steve Schmidt, who led the Bears to conference, state and regional titles last season.
Players like Myles Busby, a springy second-year forward, will be counted on to set the tone for the season.
“Myles is a unique kid; he works hard and takes a lot of pride in everything he does,” Schmidt said. “He’s a solid leader who doesn’t take shortcuts, and I can tell that he really likes being a part of the program.”
Schmidt said Busby is a genuine person who is respected by everyone on the team.
“It was a no-brainer to make him a captain,” Schmidt said. “We have two other guys who have been named captains (Malik Albert and Chase Krager) and they’re doing a great job leading this team as well.”
Busby said he doesn’t take the captain label lightly, and that it’s an honor to share it with some of the great players (and leaders) of the past.
“(Former Mott All-American) Kevin Tiggs, who left an untouchable legacy at Mott, represents everything a captain should be,” he said. “If the captains we have now can bring one quarter of the energy and enthusiasm he brought to our open gyms in the summer, our team will do nothing but progress this season.”
When he wasn’t sparring with Tiggs, Busby spent much of the summer developing his skills as a player, getting in tip-top physical condition and learning more about himself.
“The biggest thing that has carried over from the summer until my sophomore season for myself now is patience, bringing positivity and enthusiasm to each practice or workout and becoming a more vocal leader,” said Busby, who also tried his hand at coaching high school girls this summer. “I had to prepare for my sophomore year in more ways than just developing my individual basketball skills and becoming a better athlete.”
Through two games, Busby, at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, is leading the team in rebounding – a stat that’s one part talent and two parts effort.
“He makes the most of his abilities,” Schmidt said. “He gives you his best effort and he’s tough and disciplined. I feel he’ll do whatever is needed to help the team.”
Busby, who played multiple positions in high school, has the talent to play a wing position at Mott; but, with Mott’s stable of talented guards, his best opportunity to make an impact is in the frontcourt.
“He’s doing a great job so far with the opportunity that he has,” Schmidt said. “I wish we could get another kid or two grabbing 10 rebounds a game.”
Busby may well be the embodiment of the type of player Schmidt not only loves to coach, but has a tendency to win a lot of games with – the hard-working, athletic “tweener.” He’s the type of player who’s more pivotal than prototypical.
“I relate to players that love to work, compete and have realistic goals and dreams,” he said. “I really respect players who love being part of the Mott program and don’t mind being coached. Myles is one of those guys.”
Schmidt has made a career out of winning without a traditional, back-to-the-basket, plodder in the middle. This season should be no different.
“There just aren’t a lot of good big guys out there,” he said. “The ones that do have size seem to get over-recruited, but I’m comfortable coaching every team that we put together.”
Busby said what he and another undersized forward, Ruston Hayward, lack in size they make up for in quickness and scrappiness.
“In the end, it’s about toughness and wanting the ball more than the man guarding you,” he said. “Coach Carl (Jones) is a great strength coach and does an excellent job getting us physically stronger in the weight room.”
Another ‘banner’ season
Last season’s eighth place finish in the national tournament wasn’t what Schmidt expected when he took his team to Danville, Illinois, last March. Even so, it served as an important reminder to him and a lesson to his returning players: winning national titles is really tough.
“The experience we had last season made me really appreciate what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I walk into that gym every day and spend time looking at those banners. I love what this program has done.”
Schmidt’s sophomores, like Busby, know the program’s history and are hungrier than ever for a national title.
“We (sophomores) have something to prove; we don’t want to be one of the few classes that Coach Schmidt has had that leaves without winning a National championship or making a Final Four,” Busby said. “We hold each other accountable on and off the court and try and show the guys who are new to the program the amount of work it takes to progress everyday.”
Last season’s finish was the worst in Schmidt’s career at the national tournament, a fact that puts his tournament-best coaching record into some perspective. Even so, Schmidt plans to parlay that experience into another deep run into the national tournament.
“All four of our returning players from last year are going to be relied on to help us through the ups and downs,” he said. “I feel that experience at that level is a difference maker.”
Mott will take on a strong Kalamazoo Valley (2-0) squad at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at the Steve Schmidt Gymnasium in Flint.