End of the road
Seniors sad as final home game of Mesa career looms
It is hard for Michael Bear to imagine. A little sad even.
The Colorado Mesa basketball player’s journey from a raw freshman to a polished senior is nearing its end.
“I have thought about (this being his last home game) a lot,” Bear said. “It’s kind of sad. The five years have gone by fast.”
Bear, Blake Francom and Nate Nelson will each play their final home regular season college basketball games of their careers when the Mavericks (13-10, 11-8 RMAC) host Western State (12-11, 10-8 RMAC) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Brownson Arena.
“It’s a diverse group,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “They’re all really important in what we do in their own way.”
Heaps invited Bear to walk on the team after seeing him play in the Alex Bennett 3-on-3 tournament.
“He has that length and athleticism you don’t see very often,” Heaps said. “He reminded us a lot of Jeff Boese (1999-2001). As a freshman, we had to throw him in there a couple times. I remember him blocking shots and getting rebounds. He showed flashes of the kind of player he would be. Last year, we asked him to come off the bench and provide scoring.”
This season, Bear has developed into their leading scorer and go-to player. He is averaging 15.9 points, 1.4 blocked shots and 1.2 steals per game this season. He is fourth in the RMAC in scoring and third in blocked shots.
Bear sprained his right ankle three weeks ago against Regis and missed the past five games. He practiced on it this week for the first time and will play in an important game Saturday as the Mavericks try to claim the No. 4 seed for the upcoming RMAC tournament.
“I think you can see that with the kind of year he’s having this year,” Heaps said. “Until he got hurt this year, we felt he was in the running for (RMAC) player of the year. It’s too bad, but that kind of stuff happens.”
Bear has played 94 career games, scored 904 points (18th all-time), grabbed 339 rebounds (20th), blocked 102 shots (3rd) and has 52 steals (20th).
“It’s huge for me,” Bear said. “That’s something every player wants to see in his career that he made an impact. More than the numbers, the team bonding and being around the guys and making the friendships we’ve made is what I’m most proud of.
“I wouldn’t change anything if I could do it all over again,” Bear said. “I get people coming up from Delta to watch me play. It’s great.”
Nelson transferred to Mesa after two years at Northeastern Junior College, where he was predominately a scorer. Although he started and played more of an offensive role last year, he has become a defensive stopper off the bench for the Mavs.
“That’s really hard when you go from a junior playing a certain number of minutes to a senior having to come off the bench,” Heaps said. “He’s handled it so well. His attitude’s been great. As the year has gone on, he’s played more minutes to where I’ve developed a trust in him. He’s one of the top two or three defenders in the conference.”
Nelson’s most memorable moments are on the offensive end where he’s had a couple dunks over opposing players, but he isn’t disappointed with his significant role shift.
“My role is totally different,” Nelson said. “I’m just happy and grateful to be on the team.”
Francom has experienced a similar role change transferring from Hartnell (Calif.) Junior College — where he averaged double figures — to Mesa.
“He’s one of those wild-card kind of players,” Heaps said of Francom. “He kind of got stuck in behind Mike Bear and wasn’t getting the kind of minutes. As soon as Mike goes down, he has to start and play major minutes. He might go from playing 10 minutes in a game to 23 minutes, depending on situations.
“He’s a great teammate. Coaches really appreciate having those kind of guys on the bench. He has the cerebral sense. He’s a glue guy. He’ll never score 20 points, but he’ll get 10 and he’ll have some assists and run good offense.”