When Queens (N.C.) men’s basketball coach Bart Lundy was asked what junior Todd Withers means to the Royals, he never mentioned the 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds he provides to the third-ranked team in the NABC top 25.
Lundy has seen the personal growth of Withers, a 6-foot-8 forward, from the time he arrived in 2014 from Greensboro, North Carolina, to now, on a team that won its first 16 games and is currently 17-1.
“Coming out of high school, I think he will tell you, he was immature,” Lundy said. “His growth over the last three years has been tremendous. I was fortunate to be at Marquette and watched the growth of Jimmy Butler. I don’t want to blow Todd’s head up, but I have seen the same kind of growth as a human being and as a basketball player.”
Make no mistake, Queens want to succeed at the highest level possible on the basketball court. It meant a lot to the Royals when they beat Lincoln Memorial 103-101 in overtime on Jan. 9.
A year ago, Queens went 25-7. Three of the losses came against Lincoln Memorial, including the season-ending loss in the Southeast Regional semifinal. Lincoln Memorial went on to finish runner-up in Division II.
“It was big,” Withers said. “Since I have been here as a freshman, we haven’t beaten Lincoln Memorial. We all wanted to beat Lincoln Memorial. It was something that needed to be done for us to succeed later in the season.”
As thrilling as it is for coaches to see a group of players come together and jump over a difficult hurdle in competition, they get more satisfaction out of the personal growth of their players.
Withers says Queens University is a special place for him. He calls the professors, the school and community amazing.
“Even the people who work here like the janitors are amazing,” Withers said. “They talk to me all the time. They ask me how I am doing. It has been an amazing process from my freshman year going into my junior year.”
Withers is majoring in sports communication with a minor in theater. Last summer he had a valuable experience. Coach Lundy told Withers of an opportunity to do an internship with the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA.
Obviously, it is exciting for any college basketball player to work for an NBA team in the summer. Withers understood how important this internship was for not only him but for Queens.
“When coach gave me the offer of would you be willing to do an internship with the Hornets, he stressed to me how serious it was,” Withers said. “I am representing the program. I am representing Queens. I took it very seriously.”
Withers was able to work out with the players and coaches. He worked on scouting reports and cutting film. He also worked in the marketing department and learned all the behind-the-scene things that go into marketing a professional team.
Withers listened and learned.
“Words can’t really explain what I feel about the internship,” he said. “It made me grow a lot over the summer. I got to see how hard each player worked on their game and how hard coaches push them. That has helped me this year. When coach yells at me, I know it is for a good reason. It all helped me out.”
It takes that type of leadership to keep a team in the top 10 during the course of a basketball season. Even the best teams will suffer several losses. Queens had its first one on Wednesday but rebounded on Saturday with a 94-92 OT win against Anderson University.
Queens is 11-1 in the South Atlantic Conference, two games ahead of Lincoln Memorial and Carson-Newman.
“We are extremely tough and hard-nosed,” Lundy said. “They play extremely unselfish. We have a different leading scorer every night. They don’t care who is the leading scorer. They have really shown up since the day classes started this year. As a collective unit, they are the hardest group we have had. They have earned every bit of success they have had so far.”
Through mid-January, it has been a great ride for Withers.
“It is amazing,” Withers said. “Being part of a program that can go 16-0 or go unbeaten this long is great for me. We all hangout. We are all tight. We play as a team.”
Arkansas-Monticello having a dramatic turnaround
When Arkansas-Monticello finished last season with an 8-20 record, men’s basketball coach Kyle Tolin knew changes were necessary.
Tolin brought in a new assistant coach to help out with recruiting. They added some junior college transfers like junior Derylton Hill, who is averaging a team-leading 18.6 points per game and 7.6 rebounds.
“No. 1,” Tolin said, “he is a really good kid. When your best player is your hardest worker, you have a chance to have a good team.”
The most important thing Tolin did last summer was actively change the culture of his program. He read books about it and came up with core values such as humility, selflessness, passion, leadership and thankfulness.
“Those things we try to emulate on the floor, off the floor and in the classroom,” Tolin said.
From day one, Tolin saw that the new players bought into it. Hill said he could feel the team chemistry the first day of classes.
“As soon as we stepped on campus, we acted like we knew each other from day one,” Hill said. “We were like brothers. On the floor, we are like brothers.”
The new players and the new attitude were a secret from the rest of the Great American Conference. The Weevils were picked to finish last in the GAC.
Arkansas-Monticello is no longer a secret. The Weevils won their first 14 games, including the first 10 GAC games before suffering a 91-90 loss on Saturday to Arkansas Tech. Arkansas-Monticello still has a two-game lead over second-place East Central.
“Yes, opponents are treating us a lot different,” Hill said. “They know we are not the last team. They are definitely taking us seriously. They want to beat us.”
Getting picked to finish last in the conference motivates Arkansas-Monticello.
“We feel we have something to prove every day,” Tolin said. “Our goal literally is to try to get better every week. The guys have done a good job of focusing in on that.”