Bates College junior guard Stephon Baxter takes the ball down the court.  Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Bates College men’s basketball coach Jon Furbush said Stephon Baxter makes athletes around him better basketball players and he is like having a second coach on the court.

But there is plenty more that could be said about the junior guard from Worcester, Mass.

“First of all, the kid is super talented,” Furbush said. “The kid is a three-way scorer. He scored 30 (points) in our first game. He did it at the rim. He did it at the elbow. He did it from behind the 3-point line — both off the bounce and off the catch.

“He is a really hard matchup because of those things. His first step and his change of speed is one that I haven’t coached anybody who can do it like him. He is really dynamic on offense and I ask him to do a lot on the other side of the ball, too.”

Baxter is grateful to play a full season and apply what he has learned from four seniors — Kody Greenhalgh, Jeff Spellman, Tom Coyne, Nick Gilpin — his freshman year.

“I played with four great senior guards who led the way for me and basically helped me fill the role that I am filling now, just being a captain,” Baxter said. “I am trying to finish what those four seniors started my freshman year.

“Before I came here as a freshman, I believe the Bobcats were like 7-13 and then my freshman year, we finished the year 13-3. Hopefully this year we can we set a better record than that. I think we have the right team to do that. We are a very young team; we have heart.”

Baxter cited his hard work and passion as an asset for a game that he loves playing.

“I just want to lead these guys to victory and I like showing that through leadership and basically showing that group my hard work,” he said. “The work that I put in in the weight room and gym has never changed. I know the guys (have) seen it. I know the coach has definitely seen it, and I believe that is why I am a captain my junior year.”

In his role as the team’s point guard, Baxter said it is crucial to get his teammates immediately involved in each game and for him to put points on the board. 

He said the COVID-19 hiatus was rough on sports, but he learned a positive lesson from the pandemic.

“Getting back on the court…made me appreciate the game so much more,” he said. “It made me realize that I have only two years left here…. and I don’t want to waste any time.” 

According to Furbush, Baxter will play a crucial role in the Bobcats’ destiny this season.

“Because he is such an elite, on-ball defender, he’s got a lot of responsibility for us to have success and it is great to have him this year and next year,” Furbush added.

Despite Baxter’s many talents, his competitive nature is his greatest asset, according to Furbush.

“It is funny. When he was a freshman, he probably couldn’t have named all 10 of the teams in our conference, because all he cared about was the jersey he was wearing and just focusing on competing every day,” Furbush said. “All the guys that have played for me, compete. He just competes in a little bit of a different manner and everything is important to him in practice.

“What makes him special is we have a really strong dialogue. He is always thinking, ‘How can we make the team better.’ His best attribute is the team-first mentality, and when your best player has that, everybody follows that lead.

“I really love being around Steph. He really wants to be coached hard. There is nothing I can’t say to that kid. He really wants to be the best player that he can be.” 

For Baxter, this is a season about change.

“We are trying to become a different team this year,” he said. “We are trying to emphasize our defense and I think we have the guys to do it. I think defense is going to help us win games.”

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