Shooting for Success
Tri-C basketball coach Michael Duncan guides players to achievement on the court and in the classroom
Michael Duncan grew up in Cleveland a long 3-point shot away from Tri-C’s Metropolitan Campus. His basketball skills attracted the attention of community college coaches around the nation in 2002.
The gifted guard signed with Eastern Arizona College, packed his high tops and headed west. Duncan never considered playing for Cuyahoga Community College.
Today, he calls that his 2,000-mile mistake.
Duncan spent one disappointing year in the desert before heading home. A buddy from his days playing high school basketball at Cleveland Central Catholic recommended that Duncan come to Tri-C.
“He said, ‘I’m telling you, man, you’ll like it,’” Duncan remembers. “I just had to give it a chance.”
So Duncan enrolled at the College and basically majored in success. He played on the school’s national championship basketball team, earned credits toward a future bachelor’s degree and built a foundation for his future.
Today, Duncan — now the head men’s basketball coach at Tri-C — often shares that story with high school recruits deciding where to continue their education.
“I speak from personal experience, because Tri-C changed my life,” Duncan said. “It put me on a different path than the one I was heading on and brought me stability. Opportunity is available here.”
Duncan is in his fourth year as coach of the Challengers, who are 20-1 and ranked first in the latest NJCAA Division II poll. He has guided the team to a record of 85-28 since taking the clipboard.
Last season, Duncan earned Coach of the Year honors from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference after the nationally ranked team finished 28-3 with a share of the conference championship.
His teams reflects their coach, playing a hard-nosed style of ball where everyone contributes.
“Coach is on top of everybody to play hard,” said Wade Lowman, a sophomore forward from Philadelphia. “He pushes us with the goal of being national champion. He demands the best out of us.”
That mandate for excellence extends to the classroom, too. Team study tables take place three times a week. Skipping one is not an option.
The increased emphasis on studies under Duncan has brought results. In the fall semester, three players — Lowman, James Anderson and Anthony Bittala — earned conference All-Academic Honors.
The team as a whole posted its highest GPA in years while outperforming the overall student body.
“These kids are all about basketball, but they have to understand the ball only bounces for so long for any player,” Duncan said. “They need to succeed in their classes. That has to be their priority.”
Duncan understands the value of a Tri-C education. His year at Metro Campus provided an academic base for the bachelor’s degree in sociology he earned from Livingstone College in North Carolina.
He followed that with a bachelor’s degree in special education from Notre Dame College in South Euclid, which he puts to use while teaching at Mayfair Elementary in East Cleveland.
Duncan is currently finishing work on a master’s degree from Notre Dame.
“Never stop learning,” Duncan said. “Academics is key to everything.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for hoops.
Winning a national championship while playing at Tri-C still ranks as a life highlight for Duncan. Those Challengers won 11 games in a row to end the 2004 season, capping the run with a 74-67 victory over Mott Community College in the NJCAA Division II final.
Mementos from that season fill a trophy case just outside the Metro Campus gym where the current team practices and plays.
Duncan’s goal is to add more.
“We proved that winning a national championship is possible at Tri-C,” Duncan said. “I want my players to experience that feeling at the end of a season. I want them to find their greatness.”
February 05, 2018
John Horton, 216-987-4281 firstname.lastname@example.org