March 2, 2011
A wrap on 2010-11
By David Boyce
When a basketball team finishes 10-16 overall, 10th in a 12-team conference and fails to make its conference tournament, it might appear a little imagination is needed to find the positives.
But when it comes to Northwest Missouri State men's basketball team, you don't need to invent a time machine, pick up a pan and turn back time to 1849 for the California Gold Rush.
As the calendar flipped from January to February, the Bearcats found their nuggets of success. They finished the season 6-3. That's a remarkable feat when you factor in that they started conference play 2-11.
"Not many teams," Northwest coach Ben McCollum said, "can start 2-11 and finish 6-3.
"I don't want to make excuses, but if our schedule was flipped and we didn't start with four straight road games and started with the schedule we finished with, at 6-3, we would have been talked about as one of the hottest teams in the league.
"I wish we still had a few more games. If we had three left, we would win at least two of them."
And there lies the gold. Northwest never took a defeatist attitude even when losses were piling up.
"It was kind of a tough season, but we learned never to give up," said senior forward Arunas Simanavicius said. "We believed in the team and we kept working hard. It showed up in the end.
"The end of the season we were good. We faced adversity and learned lessons from it."
It's often said that athletics teaches life lessons. If that's truly the case, the 2010-11 Bearcats gained more than what a MIAA plaque might have brought.
At the very least, a roster that had three active freshmen, two others who were redshirted, a sophomore and four juniors, should be amply prepared to not only make a run to reach the MIAA Tournament next season, but to finish in the upper half.
"Hopefully, they learned how to handle adversity throughout a season and how to win and close games out, which we did down the stretch," McCollum said.
The Bearcats only lose two seniors: Simanavicius and Elijah Allen. They return plenty, including sophomore point guard DeShaun Cooper, who earned second team all-conference.
Cooper really grew as a player on the court and he still has two more seasons left.
"This season was a learning experience," Cooper said. "Our future holds greater things. We will have more experience. I will have more experience."
"Everybody goes off you," he said. "You have to go hard in practice every day so they will go hard in practice."
McCollum said Cooper has to continue to improve mentally.
"He needs to be able to handle adversity throughout the game," McCollum said. "He has to keep his composure and do all the things he did down the stretch this season. He needs to do it the entire season next year."
Unfortunately, the Bearcats can't take their end-of-the-season hot streak into Kansas City for the MIAA Tournament, which starts Thursday at Municipal Auditorium.
Northwest had success against a few of the eight teams, particularly No. 7 seed Missouri Western. The Bearcats beat their rival twice this season.
So far in men's team sports, Northwest is 4-0 against Missouri Western. Football season is long over, but not forgotten. A reminder: the Bearcats beat the Griffons twice in the fall.
Whenever players on the men's basketball team wander into St. Joseph, they will take with them bragging rights.
But the basketball season was much more than that for Allen.
"We had a great group of guys," Allen said. "We had our ups and downs on the court. But I'm proud of the guys for keeping with it and never giving up.
"At the end of the year we looked good and had real good leadership."
The Bearcats overcame adversity and persevered. It's a lesson that should serve them well when they journey into the real world of jobs, raising a family and dealing with the twists and turns from life's occasional curve balls.
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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