Head up high

By Leo D. Rommel

This is the toughest part of losing.

Just moments after Rider lost to eventual MAAC champion Niagara on March 3, the three most well-known faces on the team – junior forward Jason Thompson, Head Coach Tommy Dempsey and senior point guard Terrance Mouton – marched into the press room looking like captives about to face the firing squad.

When they sat down to face the media, who tend to use ballpoint pens and laptop computers as opposed to bayonets to slay their prey, their expressions intensified.
Thompson looked disappointed.

Dempsey was calm and relaxed, like the true leader that he is, though you could tell from the look in his eyes that he wanted to toss a chair across the room in frustration. Losing, after all, is never a picnic.

But Mouton, slouched over the table as if he had an upset stomach, could have brought you to tears faster than the ending to The Notebook with the expression on his face. His eyes sorrowfully ached. His shoulders drooped. And his replies to questions directed toward him were brief and concise, not because he didn’t want to help the writers, but because timing is everything in this business, and it simply wasn’t the time.

When he got up to walk out of the room, with his head down, I wanted to give him a hug. That, or a bottle of Zoloft.

This is Terrance Mouton, folks. No, statistically, he is not and never was a superstar. There have been games in which he looked like Magic Johnson and others in which he looked like one of the Monstars from Space Jam – before they stole the talent of the NBA players.

But regardless of what you may think of him, you have to admit this: Day in and day out, no one poured his heart out on that basketball court more than he did. Winning was everything to him. Not once did he back away from a challenge, and pressure was seldom an issue. As the saying goes, he always “left it out on the floor.”

And while Thompson may have always been the main attraction of the show, Mouton was unquestionably its most valuable asset. Given his smaller size ­— 5-foot-11 — Mouton was the master of spinning straw into gold, always making the best of what he had. Teammate Kevin Hickman even proclaimed him the Steve Nash of the basketball team, and for the most part, he was. Mouton had to play well in order for the team to succeed, and more often than not, he did, a fact most fans should remember when they look back on him.

“There were games that I should’ve played better,” said Mouton. “Had I played better in those games, we probably would have won. But I always tried to do what my team needed me to do to win, and I think I did that.”

For some reason, Mouton was labeled as a player who missed his chances to be the hero. He tried too hard, they said, as if trying hard was a bad thing. And when the team lost, several fans looked at him as the person who could have made the difference.

But truth be told, he was not the reason why the team did not reach its full potential. Like most stars, Mouton got too much of the blame when the team fell short. As much talent as he has, one man alone cannot win a game. And on the plus side, the team appears to be on the rise again, and Mouton doesn’t, but should, get much of the credit for that.

“They look good next year, no doubt about that,” he said. “They’re going to be good and I look forward to watching them. I wish them the best of luck.”

For those who consider Mouton a letdown because he wasn’t Jerry Johnson, just don’t go there. When Johnson, the renowned point guard with seemingly every record in the book, graduated in 2005, fans right away turned to Mouton for comfort, unrealistically expecting him to be a lot like Jerry and not so much like Terrance. It was simply an unfair role, but like the class act that he is, Mouton paid no attention.

“I didn’t feel the pressure because Jerry and I had different games and played different styles,” said Mouton. “The team could still do well by me being Terrance, and this year, I think that happened.”

Good point. See, Terrance is a sharp kid. Sharp enough to know that his career could have gone a little better, and smart enough to know that it went a heck of a lot better than people give him credit for.

As he rides off into the sunset, Mouton should take with him the satisfaction of knowing that he gave the team everything he had. He shouldn’t have any regrets.
Instead of leaving this campus as he did that pressroom, he should walk off with his head up high, with perfect posture.

He deserves it.

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