FLINT, Michigan — Firsts are hard to come by for Steve Schmidt, entering his 24th season as the head coach at Mott Community College in Flint. Just when he thought he’d survived every hardship, enjoyed every success and coached his way through every possible situation on and off the court, this: Schmidt will start the season next week without a single returning player.
Nada. Not one.
His team is unknown, undisciplined and unranked.
It’s dysfunction junction at Ballenger Fieldhouse heading into the 2014-15 campaign; that’s the bad news. Schmidt has already held four players out of practice in the preseason for rules violations. Schmidt says he’s exercising patience and embracing the dysfunction, staying positive about what will be his biggest challenge in many years.
“At the end of the day, you try to correct behavior early on and hope that (the players) learn from it,” he said. “If basketball is important to them, they will learn and become better people. We all make mistakes, but the real question is: how do we learn from them? As we sit here now, I’m comfortable with how we’ve handled things. No player is bigger than this program.”
Following a decent showing in a scrimmage versus Adrian College last week, Schmidt said he was encouraged by the words of Adrian’s coach, Mark White.
“He knew we were down some guys,” Schmidt said. “He told me, ‘whatever you do, don’t change. You’re good for kids.’”
So even when situations change and problems arise, what’s best for players is what’s best for the program. And Schmidt says that’s not going to change.
Schmidt is still smarting a bit over last season’s 25-6 season. The team was bounced out of the regional tournament in the semifinals due, in large part, to its inability to live up to the program’s defense-first identity. (Mott surrendered 90 points to rival Oakland.)
Fast forward eight months and the situation Schmidt finds himself in starting this season is one of his own making. He could have brought back as many as four players from last year’s team, but the standards of the program don’t change like roster spots and rankings.
“We had guys who had the chance to come back, but they didn’t handle their business academically,” he said. “My decision was made based on how committed they were academically, and they didn’t come through. From a basketball prospective, it would be nice to still have them here.; but, that’s not what we’re about. We don’t use kids here; we hold them accountable. I wish nothing but the best for those guys, but we have higher standards.”
All is not lost, however.
“What we lack in bodies,” Schmidt joked about his 11-man roster, “we make up for in immaturity and dysfunction.”
The Good News
Schmidt’s roster, while young, is brimming with talent.
The team will be led from the frontcourt by 6-8 forward Darryl LeVert (Pickerington, OH) and 6-6 Daryl Bigham (Detroit Southeastern). Levert, brother of University of Michigan standout Caris LeVert, is a finesse forward who transferred from Connors State in Oklahoma. He has really come into his own over the last year, and Schmidt is expecting big things.
“He could end up being one of the top players in the region,” Schmidt said. “He’s a reserved kid who leads by example and works hard. He doesn’t have much experience, but he will play as much as he can handle here. He’s one of the few guys who I feel has had a productive preseason in terms of academics, working hard in the classroom and in the gym.”
Bigham was one of the top players in the Detroit PSL as a senior, getting lots of attention from division one schools. He will set the bar for toughness on this team, filling an enforcer role Mott hasn’t had since the departure of Fred Mattison two years ago.
If starting lineups were constituted based solely on talent, joining LeVert and Bigham would be guards Justice Green (Flint Carman-Ainsworth), Joseph Stamps (Chicago Curie) and Amariontez Ivory-Thomas (Flint Beecher).
Stamps is arguably the most talented of the bunch, but Schmidt admits the former standout guard from Chicago Curie has had a tough time making the transition to college.
“We’ve had a lot of success with Chicago kids and Joe’s talented, but he’s missed some time,” he said. “It’s been a challenge. He has to understand that when you’re in our program, you have to defend. I’m being patient with him.”
Stamps played alongside All-American and current University of Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander. He has played in many big games in his career and aspects of his game will certainly garner comparisons to former Mott All-American John Taylor. It remains to be seen whether Stamps can play at that level.
Green is Mott’s best option at point guard. At a slinky 6-foot-1, Green cuts on a dime and is one of the quickest ballhandlers you’ll ever see. He has a slight build, but can play above the rim in transition.
Thomas will be Mott’s best perimeter shooter but, like Stamps, he will have to earn his minutes by taking defense a little more seriously.
Another intriguing prospect on this year’s roster is Rod Milton, a strong and athletic 6-3 guard from Worcester, MA. Milton had an excellent senior season at South High School but has not played organized ball in a year.
Finally, Schmidt had high praise of the play of his small, but deadly quick hometown guard Malik Young (Flint Southwestern). Young looked tremendous in the team’s most recent scrimmage.
“He’s fearless going to the basket,” Schmidt said. “He’s going to surprise some people.”
Mott will open the 2014-15 season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night at home against Rochester College (JV).