Bearcats claw back to elite level
BOLIVAR—Jim Grabowski was a starter two years ago when Southwest Baptist University (SBU) won 27 games and finished sixth in the nation.
Now the 6-foot-7 forward from Bolivar is the only senior on another Bearcats basketball team that may turn out to be just as good, if not better.
Surprising many onlookers after being picked to finish seventh in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA), SBU had built a 17-5 record through Feb. 15 and a No. 15 national ranking in NCAA Division II.
SBU Coach Jeff Guiot has watched Grabowski evolve from being a role player to the team’s leading scorer and its multi-dimensional tool in the post and on the wing, not to mention its spiritual and emotional leader off the court.
“Jim has been the coach when the coach isn’t around,” Guiot said.
Grabowski, who averages about 17 points a game in a balanced attack, confesses that he is probably too unselfish on offense. When he is grabbing more than his usual seven rebounds a game, the team tends to do well, but Guiot hinted that the key to the Bearcats going deep into March might just be a few more baskets from Grabowski.
“He doesn’t really care if he scores, and sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes that’s a bad thing,” Guiot said. “His heart is in the right spot. This is Jim’s last year and he wants to win.”
Guiot’s constant teaching on subjects like focus and humility has found a willing receptacle in Grabowski, who is keeping in mind the oft-quoted Guiot adage that “the greatest threat to your success is your success.” Going back to the big season of 2005-2006, Grabowski can remember the coach’s series of questions for the players, which go something like this:
“Who are you playing for? Are you playing for your family? Are you playing for the fans? Or are you playing for God?”
Grabowski tries to lead the Bearcats to play for the glory of God.
“There’s definitely a sense that God’s blessing our season,” he said. “I can see His hand in this program. We meet at his (Guiot’s) house on Sunday night, and for an hour and a half we watch a sermon on TV and talk about it. We’re just able to kind of relate some of the Scriptures to our lives and kind of to our season also. I think off-the-court stuff kind of gives chemistry that translates on the court. Coach does a good job of leading us and building guys not just for basketball but also for their lives, incorporating the same values that SBU has as a general policy.”
Guiot has shaped the program in such a way that players at SBU, a small Christian school, can take on the larger MIAA state schools with fire in their hearts and a drive to be the very best. This season it has translated into the Bearcats defeating four opponents who were nationally ranked at the time—No. 11 Northwest Missouri State University, No. 14 Pittsburg State (Kan.) University, No. 19 University of Central Oklahoma, and No. 23 Emporia State (Kan.) University.
“When we recruit a kid, we want kids that want to get better,” Guiot said. “I think one of the misperceptions is, it’s a Christian institution, but this isn’t intramurals. We’re very competitive.”
Joining Grabowski as starters are three junior guards, Brandon Burgette of Lee’s Summit, D’Ante Harris of Bossier City, La., and Nick Kovacevich of Santa Cruz, Calif., along with sophomore center Matt Rogers of Doniphan, Mo. Burgette is 6-0, Harris is 6-3, Kovacevich is 6-5, and Rogers is 6-10.
Grabowski said his younger teammates are handling their unexpected success well.
“I think we’ve got enough guys on the team buying into things, and I’ve been able to share our experiences from a couple of years ago and how the pressure at different points of the season mounts,” he said.
Taking care of the ball better and maintaining a good rebounding effort will be the keys for SBU the rest of the way. “We can beat anybody in the country if we do those two things well,” Guiot said.