Beyond the Bench
Bushmaker Reflects on Four Years as a Star Reserve
SENIOR MIKE BUSHMAKER has just wrapped up his final season in a Falcon basketball uniform, and the 23-year-old center/forward can certainly say he made the most of it. He finished the regular season as Seattle Pacific’s No. 4 scorer with 11.3 points per game (after averaging just 4.1 last year) and led the team in field goal percentage (his .625 average was fourth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference).
While helping his team scale new heights, Bushmaker also achieved several personal bests, including 27 points in a game at Humboldt State on January 7, 2006, and five steals against St. Martin’s on January 25, 2006. “This year Mike has stepped up to play with a lot more confidence,” says Falcon head coach Jeff Hironaka. “I’m glad to see him finally reaching his potential.” Bushmaker agrees: “I’ve matured quite a bit. The older you get, the game seems to slow down for you. You can see things, read things a lot better.”
Bushmaker’s achievements are even more impressive considering they came from the bench: He was the team’s sixth man, a key reserve who started only two games this year. Hironaka said he usually started 6-foot-10-inch, 280-pound Robbie Will at center, to establish an inside presence early in the game. At 6 feet and 7 inches and 205 pounds, Bushmaker isn’t quite as physically imposing as Will, but he provided different looks with his ability to penetrate toward the basket. And his coach has nothing but praise for the way he handled the assignment.
“The role of a reserve is very difficult,” says Hironaka. “You never know how many minutes you’re going to play or what you’re expected to do. You could play two minutes or 20, and you have to mentally prepare yourself for the highs and lows. If everybody could handle the ups and downs as well as Mike has, everybody would be a better person for it. He’s comfortable in the role now, and he’s flourished.”
That wasn’t always the case. Bushmaker redshirted his first year at SPU and played sparingly as a freshman, but in his sophomore year (2002–03) he started 10 games before moving to the bench. “That year, it was hard to adjust,” he says. “In high school, you start every game and play the whole game. In college it’s not like that. But I’ve had two and a half years to adjust to coming off the bench. My approach now is to get out and act like I’ve been out there since the start.”
“He’s been a phenomenal team player,” adds Hironaka. And that’s important in the Falcons’ system, which emphasizes teamwork over individual play. “These kids buy into the team philosophy,” explains the coach. “Nobody worries about who scores, about who gets the credit for this or that. We may not be the most athletic, the most talented as individuals, but we’re a good team.”
The Falcons’ stellar year is another in a growing list of successes for Hironaka, who spent 11 years as an assistant before taking over the top spot from Ken Bone (now the head coach at Portland State University). His four-year tenure as head coach has paralleled the Falcon career of Bushmaker, who gives his coach much of the credit for his own development as a player. “Coach Hiro is,” says Bushmaker, “the hardest-working coach I’ve ever played for in my life.”
Yet winning basketball games isn’t even one of Hironaka’s ultimate goals for his players. To him, it’s more important that they earn a degree, learn to deal with adversity, and be exposed to SPU’s Christian vision. “We try to embody the University’s mission through example,” he says. “Players have gone away without a real strong orientation in Christianity, and then two or three years later it clicks in for them. I’ve had three or four come back and say that we had an influence on which path they chose.”
Count Bushmaker as another player who’s been influenced by his time with the Falcons. A psychology major who envisions a career in youth counseling and coaching, he considered attending Division I schools such as Eastern Washington and Idaho State before settling on SPU. “Every high school player wants to play in Division I,” he says, “but you may not get the minutes or the opportunities that you hoped for. I had no problem going to a Division II school, especially a successful, winning program like Seattle Pacific. Being at a Christian college affects my decisions off the court — what I choose to do on the weekends or with my friends. I know there’s more expected of me, especially as a student athlete.”
— By Martin Stillion
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