The holiday season is filled with lots of great traditions; waking up extra early to open presents, spending time with family, decorating the Christmas tree, watching White Christmas and other traditional Christmas movies, baking Christmas cookies, admiring the beautiful Christmas lights. I love Christmas; for all of these reasons. One of the best traditions is the CBS Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special that plays every year. In that movie, Rudolph travels to an island called “The Island of Misfit Toys.” It is this island that has given rise to my grand theory of DIII basketball. (Trust me, I have thought this through, just stay with me.) While on this island Rudolph and his loveable band of misfits encounter, among other things, an elephant with red spots, a train with square wheels on its caboose, a bird who swims, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. All of these toys are functional, even endearing some may say, (I mean, wouldn’t you want an elephant with red spots?) but because of one flaw they have been banished to a remote island to toil away in anonymity.
We are the “Division of Misfits.”
In my last posting, I went on a quasi-rant about how most people not associated with DIII basketball do not understand the quality of basketball that happens at our level. Every year there are DIII teams who manage to beat quality DII and DI opponents. This year, we saw Randolph-Macon beat last year’s Patriot League Champion, American. In years past we have seen the likes of Holy Cross, Princeton and George Mason fall at the hands of DIII teams. While I am not saying Randolph-Macon should make the jump to DI and plan to win the Patriot League this year. I am saying that many DIII teams can compete with teams at levels that are often considered “higher,” on a given night. This is not a fluke. It is because the skill level at each of the NCAA divisions does not differ drastically. The difference is usually one or two attributes, other than individual skills, that push a DI kid above the DIII level (Kevin Durants and Michael Beasleys excluded). A great shooter is a great shooter regardless of division, great post moves are great no matter what the front of the jersey says. In Division III however, many of the great shooters may not have the quickness or size of a DI guard. Many post players that I have seen have DI level post players at our level but simply lack 4 inches, a 40 inch vertical, or the foot speed a DI program looks for.
Examples, that’s what this column needs, concrete evidence of what I am talking about. I will leave names out of this, but trust me, I’m not making these players up. The first one is a teammate of mine. He is currently shooting over 60 percent from the 3 point line on over 5 attempts per game. Yes you read that correctly. OVER 60% FROM 3!!!!! I CAN’T STOP USING CAPS!!!!!!! I rebound for him every day in practice and I would put him up against any shooter in the country at any level. Think about that. The best pure shooter in the entire country may play in Division III. The fact that he is not going to throw down a tomahawk dunk anytime soon does not change the fact that he is an elite shooter. My next example comes from another New England Region team. There is a post player who has averaged over 18 points and 8 rebounds per game and on multiple occasions has scored over 40 points in a game. He is the toughest post player we have faced because of his phenomenal post moves and his understanding of post positioning. There is one catch; he’s 6’4″. Give this man 4 inches and he is in a DI program right now. Instead, he is in the division of misfits putting up great numbers and validating our level of play. The last example I will use is of another guard. This player returns this year as a 1st Team All-Conference selection and is currently averaging 19 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals per game. I recently watched this guy play, and the kid is a stud. He’s one of the quicker guards I have watched, has a great looking jump shot and can get to the rim with ease. Yep you guessed it, there’s a catch. He’s generously listed at 5’4.” Guys with his skill level are all over the Division I level. Division I coaches however, tend to shy away from guys who are shorter than Napoleon. This is their loss and our gain. Players with DI skill level who play at the DIII level only give our division the validity we need to sleep well at night, knowing what a great level of basketball DIII is. We are able to combine the greatest attributes of all divisions. Great basketball, true student-athletes, and players who play for the love of the game.
While I have only given 3 examples I am sure anyone reading this can think of the “misfits” on their team. Seriously. I know you know them. If you think about it, almost all of us are. And that’s what makes this division great. The country is littered with them and that in and of itself defines a DIII coach’s job. Find the “misfits” and turn them into stars. We have a fraternity of guys who were either not wanted other places or chose DIII because of all it has to offer. Are there any John Walls at the DIII level? Absolutely not. But what we do have is a group of “misfits” who compete at a high level. And that makes me proud to be a part of the “Division of Misfits.”