Last year, on its way to a national championship, the Mott Community College basketball team’s primary big man was Walter Davis, a slim 6-foot-5 player who is now listed as a guard on the Florida A&M roster.
Kory Billups and Chavis Mattison, two of only four returning players from last season along with Shaquille Smith and Kortez Ross, are both considered perimeter players on this year’s team despite both playing primarily up front last season.
The major difference between last season’s guard-heavy attack by Mott and this season’s team, which is off to a 5-0 start after beating Lansing Community College Wednesday, is an obvious one: size.
Freshman Coreontae DeBerry, a 6-foot-9 bruising freshman from Holland, Mich., and Fred Mattison, a 6-foot-7 transfer (and cousin of Chavis Mattison) from South Carolina, give Mott an imposing front line with two players who can hold position inside and score in a variety of ways around the basket. Traditionally under Steve Schmidt, Mott hasn’t been a team known for its post play, but that’s changing this season.
“This is absolutely a new dimension for me as a coach to learn,” Schmidt said. “I love guard play but I’m learning how to work with post players, and we have some good ones.”
Mattison is averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 59 percent. DeBerry is averaging 12.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 67 percent. Despite the fact that both players like to operate in the paint, DeBerry says that they rarely get in each other’s way because they play within the offense.
“We run good plays that help us know when to get out of each other’s way,” DeBerry said. “We stay pretty organized on offense.”
Understanding how to give each other enough space is no accident. Schmidt said that Mattison instinctively knows how to play within himself and Schmidt believes his experience and refined game has helped DeBerry adjust to the college level.
“Fred is polished,” Schmidt said. “That’s why they’re playing well together. Fred would complement anyone because he does several things well. He accepts the fact that he can play in the post and he doesn’t deviate from what he does well. He might be one of the top all-around post players I’ve coached, and I’ve had some big guys who’ve gone on and played Division I. He’s athletic, he plays hard, he works hard every day in practice.”
As good as Mattison has been on the court, his work in the classroom is what has endeared him to Schmidt even more. Mattison was named a team captain not for his statistical production but because he was doing well in his classes when Schmidt checked the grades of his players.
“I made him a captain when he came in with three out of his four classes 4.0s,” Schmidt said. “He’s been captain material for me, and I’m proud of him.”
DeBerry says Mattison’s presence and leadership has made a big difference in his game.
“I’ve never played with anyone like him,” DeBerry said. “We can go into games and I can depend on him or he can depend on me down low to get each other the ball in the right spots or get (offensive) rebounds on our misses. It’s been a real good experience playing with him.”‘
Schmidt has been impressed by DeBerry’s willingness to be coached and his work ethic as he tries to add more finesse and footwork to his powerful game.
“Coreontae is a work in progress,” Schmidt said. “He’s not near polished. Coming from high school, he was just so much bigger and stronger than other players on the west side of Michigan. He’s going to develop into a tremendous college basketball player, but he’s not there yet, he’s still learning.”
DeBerry believes his skillset has already benefited from his experience at Mott.
“I’ve improved my post moves and going to the basket stronger. Everything in practice helps me improve,” he said.
As always, though, Mott is far from being a team reliant on just a couple of players. Freshmen guards Malik Albert and Devin Foster have both produced. Albert is averaging 12.6 points and 4.2 assists per game. Foster is averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 assists per game. Neither guy is necessarily a traditional pass-first point guard, but they’ve taken turns running the offense and, most importantly, have quickly adjusted to Mott’s defensive system.
“Malik was Mr. Basketball in the Detroit PSL, Devin was a top five all-city kid in Chicago,” Schmidt said. “Mott’s always been known for guard play, and that’s not any different this year. You don’t make a top five list in Detroit or Chicago if you can’t play. Those two kids can play. They’re making progress, especially on defense. They’re sitting down and defending. Malik, with his athleticism and wingspan, he’s going to be a good defensive player.”
Although the team doesn’t return any of its top players from last year’s national championship squad, four players who saw minutes on that team have been strong leaders when it comes to imparting the expectations of the Mott program to the newcomers.
Ross and Smith, both Flint natives, were fixtures in the gym in the offseason and both are noticeably stronger.
“Shaq and Kortez spent every day this summer working,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t ask them to. I would meet them here, and they put in the time and effort to improve.”
Billups and Chavis Mattison, who live out of state, both worked at home with coaches and trainers on different elements of their game, particularly their perimeter games as both planned to see more minutes at the two/three spots than they did last season.
“Last season I played the four and sometimes the five, and this season, I’m playing the three and sometimes the two, so it was a big transition,” Chavis Mattison said. “I knew we had some big men coming in, so I already knew what my job would be. I worked on my ball-handling and worked with trainers at home during the summer.”
Ross and Chavis Mattison are also captains this season. Mattison is starting and averaging 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He’s worked on and improved his 3-point shot, hitting 50 percent from three this season, a vital skill has teams pay extra attention to and double Mott’s big men.
“Chavis has really improved,” Schmidt said. “He’s knocking down shots, he’s improved that 3-point shot. He’s a better player.
“They came back and all four of those guys (Smith, Mattison, Ross and Billups) got better than they were last year. They had that experience of winning and being in a lot of tight games — we were in so many close games last season. three of the four games we were behind in the national tournament, so we showed a lot of resiliency and toughness. Those four guys bring that.”
Schmidt has been pleased overall with the team, calling them ‘a joy to coach,’ but he would like to see them get even better on the boards, considering the size advantage they’ll have most games.
“One thing that’s consistent with us is we’re going to defend, whether we have size or not. Last year, we did it with good quickness and athleticism. This season, we have a unique combination of quickness, athleticism and size,” Schmidt said. I’m going to be able to throw more looks at people defensively and keep them off track. But I want to add rebounding to that. I want to become a tremendous rebounding team. We’re going to have to continue to stress it.”