Armga shows his class/Michael Bleach
Let’s play a quick game of Guess The Philosopher.
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Who said it?
It wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr. It wasn’t Gandhi.
Nor Twain. Nor Einstein.
Those who thought Nelson Mandela are closest, but not quite there either.
Like Mandela though, it was a man who was wrongfully imprisoned.
That man was Sirius Black.
As always, J.K. Rowling put it best when her wayward fugitive was describing the bureaucrat Bartemius Crouch Jr.
In fact, it is a quote I think about (admittedly wayyyy more than I should) because it has a very specific application to sports.
Judge a coach/player not by how they respond to wins, but how they react after a loss.
And as we, the media, are most decidedly inferior, we present the ideal petri dish for a person’s true character to show.
It is easy to laugh and joke with reporters after a victory. It is natural to smoothly accept criticism on the heels of success.
Those same attributes often fall by the wayside though, when the result goes against an athlete or coach.
I spent a summer covering the St. Louis Cardinals as an Associate Reporter in a program for young journalists for MLB.com. It was fascinating how a player always seemed to take a five minute shower after a game-winning home run, but same player needed 45 minutes to clean himself (enough time to put reporters in a deadline bind) when a key error or strikeout occurred.
Same goes for the occasional Badger football and basketball players, and very specifically, former football coach Bret Bielema.
Before he took his talents to Fayetteville, Bielema could have given a psychology grad student an insightful thesis paper with his spectrum of moods following either a win or loss.
On the Michigan Tech side of things, Austin Armga was put in a revealing position just over one week ago.
I’ve penned plenty of exemplary descriptions of Armga this season. I’ve gushed over his unique offensive game (which combines an old-man’s array of herky-jerky post moves with stunning athleticism). I’ve made it clear in most stories he was the leading scorer in the GLIAC.
But last Saturday, Armga experienced failure on the court for the first time this season.
It was how he handled that failure that has impressed me more than anything this year.
In a classic nail-biter game (12 lead changes) with league-leading Lake Superior State last Saturday, Armga came to the line for a chance to tie or win the game with a one-and-one at the free throw line.
A senior, he shoots 86 percent from the stripe this season.
His first shot rimmed in-and-out. The Huskies lost.
That is about as devastating a situation as an individual can experience on the basketball court. It’s the type of thing that haunts you in quiet moments.
Games are neither won, nor lost, on the final play. The 120 or so possessions that come before it matter too.
But that’s tough, if not impossible to think about, after missing a game-tying free throw.
So I requested to speak with Armga after the defeat.
There are plenty of professional athletes, much less college ones, who would have declined to appear. Emotions are raw. Nerves are frayed. It’s a tough pill to swallow to go and answer questions about a situation you want to put out of your mind.
Armga came without complaint.
His answers were honest, discerning and filled with pain. It made the game recap, for you the reader, a much more insightful story. I was thankful, as any Tech hoops fan should be.
It also displayed leadership qualities rare in an adult, much less a 22-year old.
Since the loss to Lake State, the Huskies have won three straight conference games to climb to second place in the GLIAC.
It is dangerous to draw causal effects between nebulous terms like “attitude” and “character” and winning.
Shooting, rebounding, quickness, height and defense matter much more in that regard.
But when talent is equal, attitude does mean something, however hard to quantify.
So while it is dangerous to draw a straight line, I feel comfortable pointing out that Armga scored an uber-efficient 25 points this past Saturday in a win at Grand Valley.
The Huskies had not won in Allendale since 2003.
Armga is making a strong case for GLIAC Player of the Year this season. He leads the conference in points per game (23.4), does so at a ridiculous shooting clip (54 percent from the field) and plays for a second place team.
No matter what the stats say, however, I feel exceptionally confident in the following statement.
He is a better person off the court than on it.
Michael Bleach can be reached at mbleach @mininggazette.com. Follow him on twitter @michaelbleach.