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January 29, 2014

Macomb Community College men’s basketball plays on, despite adversity

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Macomb Community College men’s basketball plays on, despite adversity
Macomb Community College’s Logan Merrick (55) swipes the ball from Oakland Community College’s Chris Martin during a game Jan. 22 at Oakland.

Losing four players from a basketball roster is likely to change the dynamic of any college team in a major way, and that is the exact scenario facing the men’s team from Macomb Community College.

Monarchs coach Jim Twigg said the team lost four of its top eight players due to eligibility issues, which he acknowledged could make it “very difficult” for them to win the league. While such a major change to the lineup may make it much more challenging to contend for a league championship, since the Monarchs compete in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Eastern Conference, Twigg did say it is still a realistic goal to make the playoffs, and cited a potential benefit that could come as a result of the adversity Macomb has faced.

“It’s kind of almost like starting over, but the guys have responded really well,” he said. “We’re kind of trying to reinvent ourselves here. Some of the guys that weren’t getting a lot of playing time now are getting playing time, and they’re stepping up and (are) doing a nice job. The kids I got are real good kids, and they’re working hard, making us proud.”

Freshman Brandon Hicks (Warren Lincoln High School) also had a positive reaction in regards to how the team has adjusted.

“Pretty good,” he said. “Players stepped up, picked up the slack.”

Sophomore Gerod Maples (Warren Fitzgerald) offered a similar sentiment.

“Stepping up, playing bigger,” he said of other players who have received more playing time.

One of the players Twigg said was “thrust into” a starting position is freshman center Logan Merrick, of Anchor Bay.

“He works hard every day,” Twigg said. “He’s a great kid. He’s getting better by the day.”

While Twigg may not have been expecting to lose players during the course of a season, experiencing player turnover is par for the course in his position at Macomb. Community college coaches only have players for a maximum of two years, and Twigg said there is about an 80 percent turnover to the roster on a year-to-year basis.

Prior to taking the job at Macomb, Twigg coached at the high school level at Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, Sterling Heights High and Grosse Pointe South, and he offered his thoughts on what the adjustment has been like since taking the helm of the Monarchs.

“You have to deal with the reality and enjoy the kids,” he said. “The most is two years, and a lot of kids you only have for one, so you try to enjoy and build a good relationship — try to teach some things about basketball and life.”

Some players who play at the junior college level earn an opportunity to take their game to a four-year school. While Twigg indicated it is the players themselves who primarily dictate what kind of opportunities they may receive after leaving Macomb’s program, he has also given some thought as to what his goals are during the relatively short period of time they are on his roster.

“They have to improve academically and on the court in order to do that,” Twigg said. “We have had some players be able to do that. That is one of the goals. Every kid wants to go on and play at the next level, whether it be a four-year school, Division II, Division I, NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). We try to give the kids the best opportunity, but it’s up to them to improve academically, improve on the court.

“No. 1 thing is to understand that school is the No. 1 thing, and (we) want them to get education and to use basketball and not let basketball use you.”

Freshman Rayshawn Griffin (New Haven) is one such player who wouldn’t mind the opportunity to play beyond junior college.

“I chose to come here and develop my game, so I can make the next level,” he said.

Hicks, Maples and Griffin are all examples of players Twigg indicated might have an opportunity to continue playing after leaving Macomb.

While it may be challenging to gauge how the rest of this season will go, Twigg has given some consideration to the future of Macomb’s basketball program.

“When I took the job, I said what I wanted to do is build a team primarily made of Macomb County kids,” he said. “Not all Macomb County kids, but I wanted to have a good base of Macomb County ball players — somewhere where kids could come, play and develop, possibly develop into a four-year player, and get some education. I’m proud of our team; we got a lot of kids from Macomb County competing for us.

“Year in and year out, we can be very competitive. I thought we had a real competitive team before we lost some of our guys. We should be real competitive next year.”

At press time, Macomb has a record of 9-8 overall. Macomb is scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in a road game against Henry Ford Community College.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.