The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team had its season come to an end in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals against Western Michigan University March 14. With that game, the college careers of center Matt Balkema, forward Jamell Harris and guard Derek Thompson came to an end as well.
All three seniors said their best memory on the court was winning the MAC West Division against WMU in 2012.
“I would say that game was the best memory,” Thompson said. “Our first MAC West Division championship as a group … our only one.”
Balkema added another memory he said was equal to the win at WMU last year.
“Something that sticks out to me was freshman year,” he said. “My first college game of my career against Oakland University at Oakland; all the newspapers had us getting killed and we go in there and beat them.”
Thompson said Balkema and Harris both established themselves as leaders on the court. He said Harris was a leader defensively, but Balkema really motivated the team.
“Matt’s a definite leader, [in] practices and games,” Thompson said. “He’s one of the most energetic guys, pumping guys up, trying to get guys going every day. He gives it his all every day. He was a great teammate.”
Moving forward, there is a void in leadership on the court that will need to be filled.
“We need someone really to step up and take control of the team,” Thompson said.
Balkema thought he knew who would be that leader.
“Da’Shonte Riley,” he said. “He’s the returning starting center, and he ended the season with three great games, probably the best of his career. Even though we didn’t win, he played good.”
Balkema was also optimistic about the team’s potential moving forward.
“[The team is] going to do some great things in the coming years,” he said. “We laid the foundation last year winning the MAC West, moving forward it’s going to be a snowball effect. In the next few years, Eastern is going to be where Akron is now.”
All three men had good things to say about their experiences at EMU and about the campus as a whole.
“Most students would have a good time here,” Thompson said. “It’s a good school, a great campus, a lot of good people here, a lot of support on campus. The resources you need as a student I think are here.”
They also echoed the sentiments of their peers on the women’s basketball team, regarding the importance of time management.
“I think it’s something you learn coming to college, it’s something I learned coming to college,” Thompson said. “As far as time management in high school, it was different. In college, I realized the hard way how to manage my time. I bumped my head a few times.”
Balkema and Harris also pointed out the accountability that comes with managing your time.
“You’re on your own,” Balkema said. “Nobody makes you go to class, nobody makes you go to practice. I feel that you have to have the will and want to get better in every aspect. Managing your time is very important.”
Harris put it very simply.
“If you get on top of your time with class, school, workouts and everything, everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “If you procrastinate with things, it will only hurt.”
Thompson echoed his teammate’s argument.
“Just stay focused and don’t take four years for granted,” he said. “It’ll come and go before you know it.”
Balkema also stressed taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
“Make the best of your opportunities,” he said. “You don’t get a lot. I feel like if everybody takes advantage of the opportunities they get, they’ll put themselves in a better position to be successful.”
Thompson recalled a class that really stood out to him during his four years here at EMU, which he is currently enrolled in: research in communication development with lecturer Crystal Sears.
“The part that stands out about it is knowing how to piece together communication research and knowing how to write a 10-12 page paper,” Thompson said. “I never thought I could do it before this class.”
Thompson also had some advice to give for students both considering EMU and those who are already here.
“Just continue on toward success,” he said. “Just continue driving Eastern to become a premier university. Just do it for yourself and do it for the university.”
Balkema mentioned the vast support he and the rest of the team have gotten from all over campus and around the area. From the Eagle Nation fan section, which started the “Fear the Beard” trend, to the rest of the fans and the university as a whole.
“I just want to thank everybody who’s been there for me,” Balkema said.
Harris was clear about his time at EMU and what it meant to him.
“If I could do it all over again, I definitely would,” Harris said.