March 31, 2012
Awards keep McCollum hungry for more
By David Boyce
Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum sat inside the Marriott Convention Center Friday evening with his wife Michelle, humbled by the coaches surrounding him.
McCollum was in New Orleans as one of 10 coaches nominated for the Clarence “Big House” Gaines Award, recognizing the NCAA Division II Coach of the Year.
“It is nice to be nominated for these things, but you usually don’t win it,” McCollum said.
The dramatic turnaround Northwest men’s basketball team made in McCollum’s third season as a head coach made him the logical choice.
The Bearcats went from 10-16 overall and 8-14 in the MIAA in 2010-11 season to 22-7 and 15-5 and a share of the MIAA regular-season title. The Bearcats also advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time since 2008.
Despite those accomplishments, McCollum was still surprised when he heard his name called and he had to walk to podium a say a few words.
As he stood at the podium before uttering his first words, he saw a couple of legendary coaches looking back at him.
“When you have Lute Olson and John Thompson staring at you and you are standing there thinking I don’t know what to say,” McCollum said.
Fortunately, McCollum did some research on the award and had a few lines ready. He figures he talked for 45 seconds and returned to his seat next to his wife, once again humbled by what had just taken place.
“It means a lot to the program and the staff,” McCollum said. “They had a big part in putting this program together and getting it back to where it is successful. We have good people around us and we have good players. This is a result of that.”
It is too bad there wasn’t somebody there to elaborate in detail the road McCollum took to reach this point.
The path he took was one that avoided shortcuts, relying on questionable student-athletes.
In addition, McCollum refused to load his roster with transfers who might play at Northwest one year and move on.
When McCollum took over at Northwest in 2009-10 season while in his 20s, his plan was to build a program by recruiting high school students and sprinkling his roster with a few transfers.
McCollum took over a team coming off its first losing season since 1996-97. In McCollum’s first two seasons, the Bearcats failed to have a winning record.
Despite those struggles, McCollum never gave into temptation of a quick fix.
“It is incredibly difficult,” Northwest athletic director Wren Baker said. “It is one of those things that is easier said than done. A lot of coaches start out the right way and say they are going to build it the right way with high school kids with four-year players who are going to learn the system.
“But when the opportunity comes to get almost all transfers, they do it. For him to stay patient and to believe in his system and himself and his staff and to believe in his kids and be rewarded for that, you just do not see it that much.”
McCollum inherited three freshmen he believed in. Kyle Haake, Jake Reinders and Jake Petersen went through the tough times with McCollum and grew as players.
McCollum also put together a coaching staff that gets along. Assistant coaches Austin Meyer and Andy Peterson also played an important role in the team’s success this season as did graduate assistant Tomas Brock.
“I think they are growing as coaches and have turned into a really great staff,” Baker said. “Their chemistry is really good. You look at Ben, Austin and Andy and when you get all three in a room, you can tell their personalities complement each other. Good staff chemistry is also hard to achieve. I think it plays out on the court. Your team feels that when your staff is on the same page.”
McCollum added, “It all trickles down. If you have good camaraderie on the staff, I think that helps your team have the same camaraderie. We complete each other. I have different strengths and weaknesses. They are able to make up for my weaknesses and I do the same for them.”
Coming into the season, McCollum liked his squad. He had a dynamic point guard in junior DeShaun Cooper. He had big men in Reinders and Dillon Starzl, a couple of athletic forwards in Justin Clark and DeAngelo Hailey and a deep bench.
“I knew we had a chance to be good and we could possibly win the conference, but to have an award like that is pretty humbling and nice for our program,” McCollum said. “It puts us on the map again. It will help with recruiting and getting more quality kids here.”
McCollum has definitely earned a few days off such as spending them in New Orleans, taking in the sites on Bourbon Street and watching the Final Four.
Instead, McCollum will be back in Maryville Saturday evening. He still has to sign three or four players for next year’s team.
“It never ends,” McCollum said. “It’s a grind.”
And sticking to the grind is why the Bearcats are in position to have another successful season next year.
“He believes in what he was doing,” Wren said. “He didn’t try and do it on the cheap. He was very patient, very deliberate and he built a program the right way with good, high quality, high character kids. It is sustainable. He returns a high percentage of his offense next year.
“The complete way he has built the program is in a classy manner and it is showing up on the court and in the classroom.”
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