In almost any sport, coaches understand the importance of having one player emerge as a leader.
But when a team is missing the leadership ingredient, the recipe for success can quickly become a recipe for disaster as the relationships between players and coaches become strained and dissolve.
Whether leading vocally or by example, a coach will give almost anything to have at least one of those players going to battle for him.
Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball coach Jim Russell is fortunate. He has three leaders.
Sophomore captains Garth McFadden, Jay Mrozek and Joel Clough have helped the Raiders to a 4-0 start for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
The Raiders enter the grind of the conference schedule Saturday when they travel to play the Minneapolis Community College Marauders, one of the best junior college programs in the country. Russell will lean heavily on his trio of captains and the bevy of experience they bring to the court each night.
"They have really brought this team together," Russell said. "Having played last year, their experience really stands out. They give 100 percent every time they step on the court."
All three players attribute the success the Raiders have had to the team committing to a common goal and working hard.
"Being undefeated has been a big momentum booster for our team," said Clough, the starting point guard. "Winning on the road has really helped because it has brought us together as a team."
"We have really played well together as a team," said McFadden, a starting wing. "We're a very unselfish team."
Russell points to the trio's knowledge of the game as a factor in their individual success as well as the team's. He says that even though they are leaders on the offensive end, it is their defensive play that makes them stand out.
"They understand the game really well and can play different positions," Russell said. "On the defensive end they cover their positions well and are very smart defensively. They play both ends of the court."
The three captains understood coming into the season that they would be expected to provide leadership on and off the court.
On the court, Russell wants them to take on more of a coach's role and gives them the responsibility to keep the team calm in tight situations.
Off the court is where their leadership becomes invaluable. They led the team through weightlifting and running sessions as well as preseason practices.
"We would get on the phone and call players and let them know when and where we were going to work out or practice," said Mrozek, the other starting wing. "It wasn't hard getting players to come because we were all working toward a common goal."
Even though the three players are starters and captains, you wouldn't know it by talking to them by their unassuming attitudes. When asked to describe themselves as basketball players, all three had trouble talking about themselves, but stated that their work ethic is what has gotten them to where they are today.
Where they are going in the future is still somewhat up in the air.
According to Russell, McFadden and Mrozek are being heavily recruited and Clough has been getting some calls as well.
But whether basketball is in the cards or not next year, getting a quality education is priority No. 1. Clough and Mrozek will pursue degrees in business management while McFadden wants to major in physical therapy.
Russell feels fortunate to get the three players to come to CLC.
"All three of them have exceeded my expectations," Russell said. "They're winning on the court and getting a quality education at the same time."
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