May 9, 2013
Northwest men’s hoops reloaded for 2013-14 campaign
By David Boyce
Wednesday morning, Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum received a call to discuss his two recent signings.
Incidentally, McCollum said he was just talking about the signing of Blue Springs South senior Justin Pitts and Shawnee Mission East senior Zach Schneider with his assistants.
High school and NCAA Division II college basketball fans from Kansas City to Maryville and points beyond are probably saying a few words about it, also.
Pitts, a 5-8 guard, and Schneider, a 6-7 guard, were two of the final five finalists for the DiRenna Award, which recognizes the top basketball player in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
“We sell the culture we have at Northwest Missouri and that is what really sold both of them,” McCollum said. “We don’t lay out the red carpet or anything like that. We let them know how it is going to be if they choose Northwest. We want kids who want to be here and those two want to be here.”
Northwest signed Schneider on April 29. He was Sunflower League Player of the Year. He averaged a team-high 15 points and helped the Lancers place fourth in the Kansas 6A tournament.
Pitts, who signed a week later, averaged 16 points per game and helped the Jaguars to three straight 20-win seasons.
“It is exciting to stay in Kansas City and to get quality and fairly local kids who will allow us to get kids in the future,” McCollum said.
“These two in particular are a perfect fit as far as character and talent. Schneider is able to stretch the floor a little bit and is a very smart, high IQ player. Justin has only scratched the surface on how good he can be. He already has the IQ and the shooting ability and the mental toughness. He will only continue to grow.”
Schneider and Pitts join Brett Dougherty, a 6-7 forward out of Omaha, Neb. Dougherty signed during the early signing period last fall.
McCollum plans to sign one more player for the upcoming class.
With 11 players returning, including five seniors, the newcomers will be able to ease into college basketball without having the pressure of being major contributors.
The three signees continue the trend by McCollum of building a program by getting players who will be with the team for four or five years.
“I think that is the benefit of recruiting high school kids,” he said. “You don’t have to bring in six or seven junior college kids and get them acclimated to the system.
“These guys are able to learn from guys who have been in the program for four and five years. That is huge to carry that culture on. It helps my mental well- being because I don’t have to retrain them because you have leadership from within. That is usually the best.”
The 2013-14 Bearcats will have as strong a senior class as it has had in a long time. They helped to turn the program back to its winning ways throughout the first decade of the 2000s.
Pitts, Schneider and Dougherty will learn plenty from seniors DeShaun Copper, Tyler Funk, Bryston Williams, Kyle Schlake and Dillon Starzl.
The incoming freshman will bring a winning mentality to Northwest.
“That is the first thing we look at,” McCollum said. “It is so important. I understand talent, but there is something to be said about kids who have a knack for winning. You can’t really put your finger on it, but there is an intangible that hey, ‘he is a winner.’ That is what he does. Those two have it and obviously, Brett does as well.”
The three players also have plenty of basketball skills.
“It is a real solid class,” McCollum said. “There are not a lot deficiencies in those players. Those kids are tough mentally. It is really going to help us. We lose five the following season that are excellent leaders. We are going to need people to take that leadership role.”
The spring semester just ended, but with so many players returning off a 21-10 season and a good incoming class, you might think McCollum wished the fall semester was only a week away.
“I enjoy summers,” he said. “It recharges us and gets our kids in better shape and they don’t hear our voice for a couple of months. It is a break for them. It helps us recharge and reorganize. When you get into the season, you lose all organization because you are so focused on winning basketball games and then you go into recruiting.”
Judging by the incoming class, McCollum and his staff worked very hard. They have earned a summer break.
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Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
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