For the first time in 10 years, Anita Schmidt will be torn on who to root for when she walks into the Reilly Center Saturday afternoon.
That’s because for the first time in 10 years, she’ll have members of her immediate family on both sidelines in a St. Bonaventure men’s basketball game.
This weekend, Bona, coached by her husband Mark, will take on Division III Alfred University, for whom sons Nick and Derek play, in the Bonnies’ lone exhibition game before opening against Saint Francis (Pa.) next Saturday.
The wife of the coach and the mother of the players he’s game planning against has been trying to figure out how to incorporate purple into the usual brown and white outfits she wears to Bona home games.
She just might have found a solution.
“Somebody offered to make me a t-shirt that has half brown and half purple,” she said with a laugh.
For the last eight years, Bona had played Division II Mansfield in its preseason tuneup, but when the Mountaineers made a coaching change, a vacancy opened up. One of the reasons the Bonnies ultimately hooked up with the Saxons was this very opportunity: to bring the Schmidts together in the same college basketball game.
“When we talked about it back in the spring, I asked both of them if that would be something they’d be interested in doing,” coach Mark Schmidt said, “because I would never want to put them in a situation where they were uncomfortable. And they were all for it.
“I think it’s great for the family; something we get to talk about 20, 30 years down the road. Very few people get that opportunity to coach against your kids or to play against your dad. It’s special.”
Nick and Derek have been shooting and playing and practicing on off days in the Reilly Center since Mark took the Bona job in 2007, when they were in fifth and third grade, respectively. They’ve played in, and won, IAABO Tournament games and summer team camp contests on that court.
Now, though, they’ll be playing in an official collegiate game in the RC, one that will undoubtedly carry a little extra meaning.
What do they think that will be like?
“It’s a once in a lifetime chance that I’ll never forget,” Nick said. “Just the fact that I get to play in that gym in front of all the people that watched me grow up through high school, I just think it’s going to be a great opportunity for me and Derek to have some fun and just play.
“Being in the Reilly Center, it’s a pretty cool place. It’s going to mean a lot. I think it will be fun.”
The Schmidt children and their dad have joked around about the game when they’ve all been back in Olean. Schmidt has told his kids, with some sarcasm, that they have
a chance to win. Nick, smiling, knows better than to listen, saying, “There’s no way. We’ll lose by at least 50. But he jokes around with me a little bit back home.”
The Alfred junior is looking forward to seeing his dad on the other sideline on Saturday.
“It’s only an exhibition game, but it’ll be different going against him,” he said. “He never coached us growing up either so this is really the first time that he’s ever been on the sideline while I’ve played, even though we’re going against each other. It’ll be fun. We’ll be laughing about it a few years after this.”
Nick made strides in his sophomore season with the Saxons, bumping his scoring average from 3.7 points to 5.4 points while making 30-of-96 from 3-point range and earning 13 minutes a night. He said after losing some weight and getting into better shape, he’s ready to take another step forward as a junior.
Derek, a freshman, helped Olean High to a near undefeated season and a state championship last winter.
Anita said both will have plenty of friends in the stands on Saturday, from Alfred and Olean. She, too, is looking forward to the dynamic of kids on one side and husband on the other.
“I think they’re both going to be really excited, I think Dad’s going to be excited,” she said. “I think there are going to be a lot of smiles, a couple of winks here and there. I’d like to see both (sons) do well, have them give a little wink to their dad if they make a shot against him.”
Yes, the Bonnies will likely blow the Saxons out on Saturday, but in the end, that won’t be the point. For Bona, the game will serve as a dress rehearsal for all (now) 10 scholarship players on the roster; for Alfred, it’s an opportunity to challenge itself against an Atlantic 10 team before beginning its Empire 8 schedule.
For the Schmidts, it’s a rare chance to turn a basketball game into a family reunion.
“That’s exactly what it is, a family affair,” she said. “It’s just a real thrill to be able to see them, to see the boys grow up. (A lot of people) have known them since they were little. It’s really neat to see them grow up and become men.”
To Nick, though, there is no confusion as to who his mother will be rooting for come game time.
“She’s definitely rooting for us,” he said. “She’s not rooting for my dad at all. She’ll be wearing an Alfred shirt for sure. She definitely wants us to do better than my dad.”
(J.P. Butler, a Times Herald sportswriter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)