The inside men: Mesa’s post players aren’t the bulkiest, but are equally adept at scoring, getting o
Lance Fite is hoping to eat a couple of Thanksgiving meals today. Michael Bear is heading home to Delta for some home cooking.
The two long, lean post players for the Mesa State College men’s basketball team can stand to put on a pound or two — even then, they probably won’t be as big as most post players they face this weekend in the Clarion Inn Thanksgiving Tip-Off at Brownson Arena.
“We’re real quick compared to the other big guys in the league,” said Bear, a 6-foot-7, 205-pound sophomore who, after a summer of lifting weights has put on about 10 pounds and is starting to fill out his frame. “We can do things they can’t to get past them.”
Fite, a junior transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, has about 20 pounds on Bear at 6-7, 225, and the two of them have rotated in the post to present matchup problems for the big guys in the paint.
“I would much rather play against 6-10, 280 than a little 6-3, 100-pound guard who wants to run and run and run and run,” Fite said.
This is an experienced team, even with a handful of players new to the system, including Fite.
“When you catch older guys playing with older guys, yeah, a lot of us are new, but when you’ve all been around it as long as we have, the chemistry was easy to find,” he said.
“We all kind of know where the other guys are going to be, we know where to expect passes, where to expect shots and every single one of us is unselfish and capable of shooting it. When you get that together, it’s deadly.”
Mesa State (2-0) is part of a solid tournament field, playing Central Methodist (Mo.) University at 7 p.m. on Friday and Metro State at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Friday’s early game features CSU-Pueblo against Metro State, with the ThunderWolves playing Central Methodist, an NAIA team that reached the Sweet 16 of the national tournament last season, Saturday at 5 p.m.
“It’s a great field,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said.
“CSU-Pueblo is really good and Metro is a top-12 team. Central Methodist, every year when they come here they’ve had 25 wins. The last time we played a team from that conference, William Jewell last year, they beat us by 20. Both games will be a lot of fun to watch each night.”
The Mavericks had a good opening weekend with two lopsided wins in the Colorado School of Mines Classic. The post players combined to average 25 points a game, and ironically, each night the guy coming off the bench had the big scoring night.
“It’s a testament to those kids’ skills and the ability of the players around them to share the ball and pass to the post,” Heaps said.
And with these guys, if the ball goes into the post, it might come right back out. They see the floor well and they love to share.
“We’ll pass up wide-open layups,” Fite said with a grin. “I’m open, but this guy’s more open. I caught myself doing that a couple of times (Saturday). That could be a good or a bad thing.”
They also have range, and like to take their defenders out of the low post and shoot mid-range jumpers.
Bear and Heaps played at the same high school and are built a lot alike, but that’s not what caught the coach’s eye a few years ago during the Alex Bennett 3-on-3 tournament.
“He had those abilities you look for in a post player, but he didn’t play in the post much,” Heaps said. “He faced up a lot, but the long arms and the jumping ability, all those kinds of things that make you think you’ve got a tremendous amount of potential.”
After one year of redshirting and learning how to play with his back to the basket, Bear got some playing time last season backing up Kurt Bangle. Not even 200 pounds, he got pushed around. He hit the weight room, and now he can push back.
“It was a long season,” said Bear, a natural shot-blocker with those long arms. “I worked real hard to get ready. I feel a lot stronger, and it gives you a lot of confidence that you can be more aggressive.”
He’s learning to channel that aggressiveness to stay out of foul trouble as he literally grows into the position. Ask him how much more muscle he can put on: “Sky’s the limit,” he’ll say with a sly smile.
“His toes are still on the ground when he dunks,” Fite said. “I’ve never seen anyone that long. He’s so athletic and so long, that right-handed jump-hook, he’s unstoppable. He can have a 19-point night and he’s still learning.”