Leader of the packPublished 11:12pm Wednesday, March 23, 2011
DOWAGIAC — As the Dowagiac Chieftain basketball team prepares to face Muskegon Heights on Friday night in the Class B state semi-finals, they continue to eat, sleep and breathe their team motto of “12 deep, one heartbeat.”
It’s a motto designed by the team referencing the fact that all 12 players are one team, and they win as a team and lose as a team.
At the forefront is sophomore point guard Dontel Highsmith, the unquestioned team leader.
Leader: a person or thing that leads; a conductor or director.
Point guard: the playmaker, or the ball handler, the coach on the floor.
Athlete: an individual with strong all-around athletic ability.
According to head coach Danum Hunt, Dontel is all of the above wrapped up into one package.
“He is our floor leader, he knows what to do, and when to do it out on the court. He has learned to become a coach on the floor, and I call him my quarterback,” said Hunt. “I put the ball in his hands and I trust what he does with it.”
His teammates echo their coach’s sentiments.
“He’s our floor general, without him we can’t go,” claims DJ Hunt.
“He runs the offense and he plays with poise like a veteran player. Whatever we do goes through him,” states senior Chris Craft.
“He is a good leader, and he distributes the ball well,” says Jason Turner.
“He is a leader on and off the court. He never takes a play off in practice and that shows in the game,” said Eric Charles.
Normally when a team starts four seniors it wouldn’t be likely that its leader would be a sophomore, and although the Chieftains are “12 deep, one heartbeat,” it all starts with Highsmith.
“He’s very mentally strong,” claims teammate Troy Butcher.
“He’s focused,” states Tremail Butcher.
“He never gives up,” says a proud Darius Wilson.
Whether he is controlling the game, distributing assists and getting the rest of the team involved on the offensive end of the floor, or taking over the game and leading the way in the scorebook, Highsmith knows his role on the team, and he does whatever he needs to do to get the job done.
“I need to be the coach on the floor, and I need to run everything on the court,” Highsmith says.
As a two-year starter on the varsity squad, the program has gone from a 7-14 team his freshman year to a 20-6 club this season that has earned its way to the Breslin Center at Michigan State University for the school’s first state semi-final appearance since 1983.
“It was a learning process last year, but this year we became more of a family and started playing for each other and that’s what has helped cause all the wins,” said Highsmith Tuesday night after his 27-point performance helped Dowagiac turn away East Grand Rapids 68-58 in the state quarterfinal.
One of the biggest changes from the 7-14 team last season to the 20-6 team this season has been the play of Highsmith.
“Last year he was more into establishing himself as a high school basketball player, and maybe more so into becoming a dominant high school player,” said coach Hunt. “But this year he has become more of a team leader. He has learned to get his teammates involved, into the flow of the game, and into the positions they need to be in order to do the things we want to do. He has become more of an all-around leader, rather than just a scorer”.
Most people only see Dontel Highsmith the basketball player, but he is more than that. He is a good teammate, he is a good friend, he is a good student (3.6 GPA), and he is a believer in giving back to his community.
“He enjoys giving back to the younger players in the community. He worked really hard and really well with our youth basketball program this year, and he is just an all around good guy,” claimed Hunt. “He’s very humble, he’s never met a stranger, and as he continues to grow over the next couple of years, we are going to see great things from him in the future, even beyond high school.”
With the state of Michigan’s School of Choice policy, Highsmith has had the opportunity to go to other schools, bigger schools where he could play and excel at basketball, but his love for his school, his friends and the community of Dowagiac has kept him where he wants to be.
“This community supports us as a team, and I think together as a team we have brought the community closer together” says Dontel.