Tommy Brumbelow sat in Fugate Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon and recalled the lessons of playing for Newman men’s coach Mark Potter.
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“He really teaches you how to deal with adversity,” said Brumbelow, a Derby High product who is now an assistant boys coach at East. “I can still hear him today. ‘Play through adversity. Play through adversity.’
“That’s a message I’ve tried to carry on through my life and in my work with young kids.”
Brumbelow then sat and watched with other former players, coaches and Newman fans as Potter’s final Jets basketball team lived the message. Down by 20 points early in the second half, Newman tracked down Texas A&M International over the last 17 minutes of regulation and forced overtime before falling 100-95 in a game that gave the visitors a share of the Heartland Conference title.
Another Derby product, senior Taylor Schieber, scored 45 points and made two three-pointers in the last 12 seconds of regulation to provide a chance for a storybook ending to Potter’s home finale. But A&M International outscored the Jets 16-11 in the extra period to tie Dallas Baptist and Arkansas-Fort Smith for the regular-season championship.
“You couldn’t have seen a better situation where we were down and out, and a bunch of guys absolutely weren’t going to give it up,” said Potter, a former Newman basketball and baseball player who left high school coaching to help restart the Jets program in 1998. “I couldn’t be more proud of my guys. It wasn’t looking good there for a while.”
Schieber, a 6-foot-1 guard, hit a 12-footer to put Newman ahead 86-85 with 4:11 remaining in overtime. It was the Jets’ first lead since the game’s opening three minutes.
Newman led on two other occasions in the extra period. But A&M International’s Denzel Bellot, who scored 28 points, gave the Dustdevils the lead for good at 94-91 on a three-pointer with 48 seconds to play.
A&M International (20-9, 13-5) shot 59 percent from the field and made 13 of 19 threes.
Newman (9-18, 7-11) trailed just 96-95 with three seconds remaining, but Arthur Santana and Bunja Yaboe hit free throws to seal A&M International’s victory.
“In the second half, we did what we had to do to get back in it,” Potter said. “Unfortunately, it came down to a couple plays and they made them.”
Amid the whirlwind of emotions, Potter, who announced in December he would resign at the end of the season due to health issues, returned to the court that bears his family’s name as fans chanted his name. He took a microphone from Newman athletic director Vic Trilli and invited his ex-players and coaches to join him, then brought out his wife, Nanette, son Zac, daughter Chelsey and other family members.
“It’s been a really emotional week for my family and to see all these guys who go back with me, it’s just a priceless thing,” said the 53-year-old Potter, a Sedan native who played at Cowley College before transferring to Newman in 1983. “The emotions are just unexplainable and really have been for a little while.”
Before the game, while his four seniors were introduced, Potter greeted Sister Thomasine Stoecklein, a retired Newman professor who mentored him as an undergraduate. Stoecklein, 93, who advocated for Potter to return to his alma mater while coaching at South High, watched the first half from a wheelchair near midcourt. It was her first Newman game in two seasons.
“He might look like he’s very impatient, but he’s a very patient guy,” Stoecklein said. “He wants to win the game and the students know that. … Whatever he’s done, he’s been very intense about it.”
The day was very much about Potter. Numerous fans wore white “Potter’s Army” t-shirts and the Newman dance team work military-style tops to tie into the theme. Potter watched most of the Newman women’s 72-46 victory over A&M International with his wife before greeting his seniors during a pregame ceremony.
It was a scene familiar to Potter’s son, a professional golfer who played collegiately at Wichita State.
“He’s been coaching for 30 years and I’m 30 now,” Zac Potter said. “For six months each of those 30 years, this is what we do. It’ll be a weird switch at this time next year.”
Potter, 331-222 in his 19 seasons at Newman, joined his family and basketball acquaintances for a postgame dinner and reception Saturday evening. The Jets will play No. 1 seed Dallas Baptist (19-9) at 5 p.m. Thursday in Tulsa in the Heartland Conference quarterfinals. The tournament may also be the end of a career for Potter’s longtime assistant, Dan Cosgrove, who’s also retiring.
When the season ends, Potter plans to turn his focus toward a motivational speaking career. Some would argue Potter has already hit his stride.
“Five years went by so quick, but I owe that man a lot,” Brumbelow said. “The least I could do was be here today.”