FLINT, Michigan – Great teams learn from every loss. This season, the Mott Community College Bears have suffered through four losses at the buzzer, more than in any previous season in Steve Schmidt’s Hall of Fame career.
“We found ways to lose all those games,” Schmidt said. “It’s high time we find ways to win them.”
With the malaise of last season almost fully worn off, Schmidt is confident his program is back on the right track. With a 10-6 record and four highly-competitive games against the state’s best teams (Lansing and Muskegon), there are plenty of reasons for optimism; this, in spite of a roster once again laden with first-year players.
“We’re in much better position now compared to last season,” he said. “This is a much better team in terms of talent and togetherness. Unfortunately, like every program at this level, we still have players struggling with issues that they have complete control of – class accountability and meeting team rules and standards. I call it a lack of focus and commitment to the program.”
Schmidt said last season, at this time, his team was on “life support.” Fast forward a year and he still has a young team but with superior depth and talent, especially in the backcourt.
“This team can do it,” he said. “We have what we need to win.”
Schmidt said in spite of the bumps in the road early on, his team, led by freshman guard Diandre Wilson, is poised to be counted among the best teams in the state come playoff time.
“We hurt ourselves (early on) trying to figure out what it takes to be successful,” he said. “Young players can let personal success get in the way of building a team. Struggles can lead to excuses, to pity-seeking; but, we’re getting beyond that. We’re working harder and toughening up.”
So far this season, the Bears have done well spreading around the scoring. Four Bears average double figures in scoring including Wilson (19.1), Jalen Adams (16.6), Cedric Moten (13.5) and Lorenzo Collier (10.5). In several games this season, every player on the roster has played significant minutes.
In the first 11 games of the season the Bears, uncharacteristically, surrendered 80 or more points four times. A habit that ultimately leads to basketball-free practices and plenty of the notorious “Clemson” sprints. Since Schmidt’s staff refocused the team on defensive intensity, teams have only averaged 59.8 points against Mott.
The Bears are currently playing their way through a dicey portion of the schedule, with six of eight games on the road. They will be back in the friendly confines of Ballenger Field House soon and primed to make a run.
“The league schedule was set up a little strange this year; I’ve never seen that in my 25 years of coaching,” he said. “We are in the tough stretch now, but in the last month of the season we will have six of eight games at home. We can use this to our advantage.
“I will be disappointed in this team doesn’t compete for both the conference and district championship.”
For more than a decade, fans could set their watches by Mott’s postseason peaks. The Bears routinely competed for conference, state, regional and national championships. From 2001 until 2012, no JUCO program in the nation could match Mott’s prolific record of success. And while fans certainly haven’t forgotten, players may not fully understand the caliber of program they represent.
For a bit of perspective, consider that Mott lost only eight games from November 2009 until December 2012. That’s two more than this team has lost in less than two months.
“I’ve always said that I don’t mind having the bar set so high,” he said. “We had a 12-year run that was incredible. I don’t think any program will be able to maintain that level of success and accomplishment again at the junior college level.”
Perhaps not, but Schmidt is not going to fade away anytime soon.
“It’s going to take a lot more work and commitment to have a shot of getting back to that level,” said Schmidt, who has four national championship rings on his résumé. “As much as we strive to try to get back to that level, I can’t help but feel great about what all of those players accomplished.”
Listen to Mott live all season online at MRSN.us .