I presume everyone, at one point or another, had read Lord of the Flies. I know I had to in high school.
The basis of novel is a group of young boys get stranded on an island. The group makes Ralph – an athletic, charismatic boy – their leader, but only because he is the first to grab the conch. Soon all hell breaks loose. The island catches fire because of the inattentiveness by the group members. Wrong behavior gets rewarded. Soon it is Jack, who is nothing short of a barbarian, who becomes the group’s new leader.
Jack is reckless and will kill – both animals and people – to get his way. Jack is not calculated, yet people follow. At the tail end of the novel, a group led by Jack attempts to kill Ralph before they are finally found.
Lord of the Flies is disturbing on so many levels but is noteworthy for this reason: The group stranded on the island was a mess because of awful leadership. Ralph was well-meaning and put the good of the group before his own, but ultimately did not command respect. Jack – in no way a positive leader — was still able to lead a revolt and take power.
As I was reading this book earlier in the week, my mind, as it often does, came back to Robert Morris basketball.
RMU, now 10-9 overall and 5-1 in NEC play, isn’t more talented than teams in past years. They have an average offense and tough defense. They are not dependent on one player to carry the bulk of the team. One game it might be Malik Petteway, the next it’s Charles Bain, the next it’s Josh Williams. And together, they have played great defense despite being less athletic than they were one year ago.
To me, the thing that stands out about this Robert Morris team is the leadership from Matty McConnell and Petteway.
Even during the good times, Robert Morris had to deal with mayhem. There was famously the “Crazy 8” team in 2014, a talented team that played with eight scholarship players after injuries and mass suspensions from an off-court incident. In 2015, Lucky Jones was suspended for multiple NEC games for violation of team rules. The following year is when things got really bad. That team had good players (Rodney Pryor, Elijah Minnie) but no leaders.
McConnell must be a dream come true for head coach Andy Toole. They seem to be kindred spirits. McConnell, a four-year player, has seen it all. He understands the Robert Morris culture – built on mental and physical toughness – that has been cultivated.
Think back to some of the best Robert Morris teams in this era. They were led by Velton Jones and Karvel Anderson. Velton wasn’t the best shooter, but he was tough as hell. He was one of the best defensive players in the conference. He played through a shoulder that wouldn’t stop popping out of place his senior year. Anderson was the same, playing his junior year with a broken wrist. Not to mention some of his hardships growing up, which included sleeping at a park.
Leaders don’t have to be born into tough circumstances, but they do have to be tough. That’s what McConnell is. He is tough. He is always on the floor, diving for a loose ball. He is constantly talking; both to the coaching staff and his teammates on the court. Next time you watch a Robert Morris game, take a moment to observe McConnell. Watch the way he hustles and is respected by his teammates.
Petteway is in the same vein.
The biggest man on the court is always hustling back on defense after a turnover and always on the floor for a loose ball. Petteway is the team’s most talented player and will make a run for first team all-NEC. While his talent is important for Robert Morris’ success, the effort he brings is just as important.
In some respects, McConnell and Petteway are the team’s two best players. They are also two of the most experienced. They know exactly what is expected from them and mature enough to know that being yelled at isn’t hate, but a way for improvement. When was the last time RMU had two seniors that were leaders of this quality? When guys like that play that hard, you have no choice but to try and match it.
Their efforts sets the tone for RMU. We’ve seen a lot of players in recent years similar to Ralph; well-meaning, well-intentioned, no results. No matter what Robert Morris does for the remainder of the season, I’m confident the ship isn’t going under because of the team’s own undoing. It will be because of talent and inexperience.
But at least for this season, there are two capable players leading the fleet. It’s been a long time coming.