The Inside Zone

Zach Wells

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When my mother told me that I was going to have a little brother as a four year-old, I shrugged and said, “good for you.”  I was home educated through high school, and when Emoly West (the only home schooled girl in Oklahoma who did not have unsightly moles or a clubbed foot) asked me to go to the home school prom with her, I pursed my lips and said, “if that’s what you really want.”

When I received a full scholarship to play college basketball, my father beamed with pride, my mother cried for joy, and I took a nap.  I’m not one to get overly excited about anything.  This run that the 2010-11 Mercer Men’s Basketball Team is on, however, has me jumping into walls, crying tears of joy, and running down busy streets screaming at the top of my lungs.  What the heck is going on with this team?

If you didn’t already know, the Bears have won nine of their last eleven games and are now 10-7 in the ASUN conference.  This means that at one time we had a dismal one win and five losses in conference.  There was a time this season when it appeared doubtful whether we would make our own conference tournament, which will be held here in Macon.  This would have been the equivalent of planning a house party, inviting all of your friends, paying for the food and entertainment, getting a flat tire on your way home from work, arriving late to your own party, none of your friends having shown up, and all of your enemies having come uninvited and ate all of your food while tearing your house apart.  Demoralizing is the word.  We were demoralized at one point this season. But then something happened, something changed.

Right around the middle of January, this team came together in ways that I couldn’t have predicted.  Suddenly, everyone had everyone else’s back.  All the negativity disappeared.  A team who’s defense had been porous all season, became stingy, regularly holding teams to under 65 total points.  A team who had trouble doing the little things, like boxing out for rebounds and not turning the ball over, began taking care of the ball as if it was a dollar bill in Brian Mills wallet.  A team that lacked for leadership suddenly recognized Brian Mills as THE MAN, and began going through him on every offensive possession.  A team that had been described as “soft” and “not tough enough,” suddenly became more leathery than Charlie Sheen’s liver.  What could have caused such a drastic change for this team?

I have given this more thought over the past couple of weeks than Einstein gave to the theory of relativity, and I believe I’ve reached a similar result.  Some might say that Coach Hoffman deserves all of the credit, which is a valid point. But I have been at nearly every practice this year and coach Hoffman has been coaching the same way over the past four weeks as he has all season.  Some might say that our team chaplain, Jon Howard, has prayed some of his best prayers of the season over the last few weeks, securing God’s providential good-will and giving us wins.  I strongly believe, however, that God cares very little about who wins or loses a basketball game (there are Christians on the other team who also pray). Some say the players deserve all of the credit, but these are the same players (with a few exceptions) who have been playing all year–something motivated them to change their approach.

There is only one man who can be given full credit for the turnaround of the Mercer Bears season.  There has been one, and only one, major change within the Mercer Basketball program over the last few weeks.  In fact, I can point to a single date, which took this season and turned it on its head.

On January 13th, Ernest John Kusnyer came back to Macon, GA.  “I was doing well overseas in Holland, making loads of untaxed cash.  But money means nothing to me. When I saw my Mercer Bears were struggling I had to come back and help.”  Kusnyer, the Mercer three point legend, was speaking to me as we sat in the cafeteria on campus. He was stuffing his face with his third chocolate chip cookie in less than five minutes.  “Yeah I’ve helped the team come together and make a great run, but I don’t see myself as some kind of hero.  I just did what needed to be done and the results are what they are.  I just let it ride, that’s what I do.”

When I asked “Kush” what he had actually done to help the team, bringing up that some questioned whether or not he really did anything at all (other than mooch of the Mercer athletics program), he got a little bit defensive.  “Of course you’re going to have people say those kind of things.  When you bring this type of success to a program, people are going to be jealous and try to bring you down.” Yes, but what does E.J. actually do for the Mercer Bears?  “My methods aren’t what’s important. I have the ASUN record for threes in a season, this team obviously respects that fact.  They don’t want to let me down.”

Not everyone agrees with this theory. When I texted John Howard about E.J.’s part in the Bears success, he texted me this message back, “E.J. is always thinking about E.J., there are other people who should be getting the credit.”  When I asked Brian Mills how E.J. had helped him since he’s been back, Mills replied, “Is he helping out with the team?  I thought he was just taking classes and working for the U.C.”

The results, however, cannot be argued with. Since E.J. Kusnyer has arrived back in Macon, the Mercer Bears have been hotter than the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Nine out of eleven speaks for itself, and if you don’t want to listen to that, you can listen to E.J. “Sometimes you just have to do something selfless.  I love these guys, I just had to come help them out. You know what their three-point percentage was before I came back?”  I shook my head.  “Yeah, you don’t want to know.”

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