COLUMN: Team chemistry was key then, and it still is now
Coaches and players who were a part of a great team are always asked the age-old question.
The question is: what made their team so successful?
Former head basketball coach Jay Smith and forward Mike Manciel reminisced about being a part of the men’s basketball team’s glorious run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003.
Though it was many years ago, their conclusion was exactly the same.
While an NBA lottery pick in Chris Kaman and depth helped quite a bit, team chemistry was an instrumental piece of the puzzle for Central Michigan.
“The other thing that’s missed in all of this is how our team came together,” Smith said. “It was great team chemistry. It was togetherness. It was playing for your brothers."
Manciel said he would call team meetings during the season just because he wanted to be around his teammates and soak in his last year of college basketball.
The season before, the team was just as good, coming off a Mid-American Conference regular-season championship and returning Chris Webber’s brother David Webber, a Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, and an improving Kaman.
But it did not work out because of team chemistry.
After losing to CMU in the 2002-03 season, the Falcons coach, who many now know from watching Big Ten games on ESPN, said what some were hinting at but were afraid to say.
“I’ve never seen a team in my life get helped as much by graduation than Central Michigan,” Dan Dakich said. “With (former guard David) Webber getting out of here, these guys are passing the ball to each other, cutting and looking inside.”
As far as cutting off the dead wood in recent years, it was slashed as soon as head coach Ernie Zeigler was axed and Keno Davis was brought in.
If you asked a person roaming the sidelines during practices this year what was the one thing that made the team special, they mentioned team chemistry.
And how could they not.
While last year the Chippewas were led by a player who was benched at least two times for violating team rules, this year they were led by senior guard Kyle Randall, who earned a degree in three years at UNC-Greensboro and decided to come to CMU.
And just look at the mindset of freshman guard Chris Fowler, who will have Randall’s role next season.
He was not aggressive enough, passing the ball off too many times. Then, he said he was pushed by his team to take more shots, and he took and made them.
Being pushed by teammates, coaches or whomever to take more shots is much better than them having to tell him to take fewer.
Freshman forward Blake Hibbitts, a 37.5 percent three-point shooter and another key piece for the coming seasons, is just another player who seems to have the same indifference about who takes the shot.
He did not even know he was the top-scorer along with Randall with 12 points, making four of six from beyond the arc, when CMU beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a 62-45 win on Dec. 23.
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking this is my night to get shots,” Hibbitts said about facing a zone defense. “If I had an open look, I took it.”
As the Chippewas experience growth and talent builds, look for CMU to win with the team chemistry that the most successful CMU team in its history possessed 10 years ago.