Tue, 04 Feb 2014 23:06:48 GMT — Westminster College is a story of basketball success.Seven straight winning seasons, likely to be eight.The Blue Jays have won outright, or shared, the regular season and/or postseason tournament championships of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in five of the last six years.Off the court, however, it's not the same story of success --- this success rate is even more impressive.Is there a doctor in the house?"I've coached three guys who are currently doctors, multiple guys who are now attorneys, businessmen that are already very successful at young a age," said Blue Jays head coach Matt Mitchell, in his 16th year at the school."When you see those things happen, you realize the school is doing what it claims it can do, and it just makes you want to be a part of it. These are young men who are probably ahead of their peers as far as a maturity level, a level of commitment. They have priorities outside of basketball; basketball is certainly a priority, it's just not always the top priority."They're academically-minded and they're thinking about their careers and what's next in life."The players at Westminster do not receive athletic scholarships. Most have no illusions of playing at the next level. They play for the best possible reason --- the love of the game."It's not an ego-driven culture at all. It's not selfish, it's team-oriented," said Mitchell, 49, who's also the school's athletic director. "They're playing for the right reasons --- they're playing for their school, they're playing for their teammates, they're playing for the love of the game."They're all really good people. It truly is one of the pleasures we have at this level --- we don't have to deal with a lot of the problems that some college coaches have to deal with.??We have hardly any disciplinary problems, whatsoever."Mitchell has no plans of moving on to a different school, unless ..."I enjoy Westminster, I really enjoy my job. Of course," he said with a laugh, "when Kentucky calls when (John) Calipari resigns, I guess I'll have to talk to them." III MITCHELL, 49, GREW UP in Lexington, Mo., and played basketball at the University of Arkansas for two college icons ---??Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson."I learned a tremendous amount from those guys, Mitchell said. "I learned there are several ways to go about doing this, motivating guys and leading a team. They went about their business much differently, but the results were very similar."In other words, they both were big-time winners."I learned one thing in particular that you've got to be yourself," Mitchell said, "and there's no right or wrong way to do things. You just have to hold true to who you are and the kids will respond."Under Mitchell, the Blue Jays have had to respond in different ways through the years."We have to adjust to the players we have," said Mitchell, who has a career mark of 218-186 with the Blue Jays, including 11-8 this season. "At this level, it's not easy to predict where you're recruiting is going to lead your program. At a higher level, you can usually get the type of players you want."It seems like we have to readjust what we're doing every two or three years."This season's roster is littered with players from Central Missouri. There are three from Blair Oaks --- Brandon Moore, the team's third-leading scorer (13.3 ppg.) who transferred from Baker University, Ben Cooper and Kellen Brondel; California's Nathan Caudel; Fatima's Tanner Gentges; and Hallsville's Blake Berkbuegler."We have always put a priority on recruiting Central Missouri as much as we possibly can, because there good basketball players in this area ... and they're good kids from great families," Mitchell said."Then we go from there." III HERE IS, PERHAPS, SAVING the best for last: Verdis Lee, a 6-2 junior and a graduate of Fulton High School."He's a basketball junkie and he loves to compete," Mitchell said of Lee, who leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg.) and is second in rebounding (4.8 rpg.) "He's just an awfully fun guy to be around and he's very passionate about the game."Lee has scored 70 points in the team's recent three-game winning streak."I just want to be aggressive and build consistency," Lee said "I'm just trying to be a leader; I want to do anything I can to help us win."Every year I've been here, coach has adjusted his offense to his guards ... it all starts with coach. He does a good job of putting us in a position to be successful."That's a quick summary of Lee's success on the court. Off the court --- and like most of the players at Westminster --- his success story off the court is even better.Lee, who's majoring in Sports Management, is the son of Verdis Lee Sr., a man with military background. Among those he credits with his success both on and off the court, it's his dad and his head coach at Fulton High School, Darrell Davis.Davis, by the way, coached by father and son."Coach Davis helped me out a lot, taught me a lot about growing up and being a leader, not a follower," Lee Jr. said. "He's a great man, a great man. That's my guy, he's like a second dad to me."He still supports me to this day."Davis, who's now the head coach at Francis Howell North, knows a good one when he sees one."Westminster is a great fit for Verdis and coach Mitchell is doing a great job with those kids," Davis said. "And as great of a basketball player as he is, he's even a better person."Mitchell is another positive influence."Verdis is from a world-class family, very supportive in everything he does, academics, basketball ... everything," Mitchell said.??"We were fortunate he chose to come here, close to home so his family could watch him play and watch him mature as an individual."Lee has six brothers and sisters --- and a seventh is on the way."It means a lot to me (playing in Fulton); my family can come and watch me play without traveling very far," Lee said. "The kids in my neighborhood can come and see me play; they really look up to me and that's something I take to heart and I take a lot of pride in being there for them."I'm just trying to show them the right way, and making sure I show my little brothers and sisters the right way, too."Lee continued."It's something that I want to do," he said. "Anything I can do to help the kids in our community grow up the right way ... a lot of kids in my neighborhood grew up without fathers, so I know how it can be."Growing up with the people that I grew up around, if you followed them, you were usually headed down the wrong path. Even though I hung around them, I kept my distance from them at the same time."A tough thing to do, but certainly the right thing to do.Nobody represents what Westminster basketball is all about better than Verdis Lee Jr.A winner both on and off the court.
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