April 23rd, 2014

Pogue’s Ponderings: Tough love often works for coaches with players

by Greg Pogue

It can be called tough love, that relationship between player and coach.  But if the coach got it right when he recruited said player, then said player should have
the attributes the coach wanted for his team in the first place. Passion and intensity are always high on the check list for a coach while recruiting a player.

MTSU men’s basketball coach Kermit Davis wanted Bruce Massey on his team. And the senior has been a main cog in a program surge to what could be called, if the current
growth continues, a major mid-major player.

And that’s saying something these days when their ranks – often fueled by tradition – include Butler (consecutive national title runner-up) and Final Four upstarts Virginia
Commonwealth and George Mason. You can also think Gonzaga, Creighton, Tulsa, Wichita State, etc.

For a mid-major like MTSU, every game is key in the battle for a strong RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) number, a chief component for the NCAA Tournament selection committee come March. Now sitting in the upper 30s, MTSU can keep winning and stay in the NCAA at-large invitee discussion at the least, yet conversely has a slim margin for error for low-RPI losses that could harm NCAA tourney at-large invitee.

Which makes road losses that get away even more difficult to stomach. Like last Thursday’s overtime losers at Arkansas State, for example. Let’s just say Davis wasn’t
happy about the effort and, ultimately, the result in their first game after Christmas.  During the game, Davis and Massey had a heated discussion on the sidelines during an
early timeout just four minutes into the game that concerned certain goings-on within the game.

As head coach, Davis wins that discussion every time, as well he should. Massey was benched immediately and didn’t return to play that night against Arkansas State. Come Saturday night in a win at South Alabama, Massey did not start per usual. 

Call it a message twice sent from the coach.  “I love coaching Bruce Massey,” said Davis, whose Blue Raiders (12-4, 4-1 in Sun Belt) host Florida Atlantic (8-8, 3-2) tonight at 7 at Murphy Center. He was a guest on The Wendy’s First Quarter on Thursay.

“He is one of the biggest cogs in what we have done the last season and a half,” Davis added.   

But that doesn’t excuse Massey, or any other Blue Raider, for acting up during a game.  “The game didn’t go great for him early,” Davis said of last Thursday night. “and he
went out of character a little bit with excuses and effort.”   Massey obviously got the message by the time the South Alabama game tipped off Saturday night. He came off the bench to notch team highs with 12 points and three assists in 22 minutes and was instrumental in the key road victory.

“Bruce responded very well in practice Friday and during the game,” Davis said. “It’s like when you have a disagreement within a family. We talked and said it was over and
time to move on.

“And Bruce responded very well. It shows you the kind of character Bruce has and the way he responds to adversity.”  A transfer out of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Massey learned on the fly last season about the intensity of a conference race in January and February. The Blue Raiders seem to understand the grind of league play and have a good handle on being a league favorite with little to margin for error during the regular season and, especially, in the postseason tournament.

“In conference play, after a while everyone knows your tendencies,” Massey said. “It just becomes playing basketball,” he added. “Players have to make plays. Coach makes the game plan out, but you have to go out and execute.”

Greg Pogue is host of the Wendy’s First Quarter on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville.  E-mail him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

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