Determining who is going to succeed in college basketball and who isn’t is always a toss-up. You just never know until a player really digs in and becomes a focal point of his team.
As the Montana State University-Northern Lights prepare to face the Evangel Crusaders tonight in the first round of the NAIA national tournament, it’s become quite clear that one such question on whether or not a player is going to make it has been answered. And he’s answered it emphatically.
Over the last two months of this season, MSU-N sophomore and former Big Sandy star Corbin Pearson has not just become a key ingredient to the Lights’ success, but he’s become a true heart and soul member of the Northern program.
I have been covering Pearson for as long as I can remember, and when he decided to sign with Northern after helping the Pioneers to the 2010 Class C state championship, I remember thinking he was a perfect fit. But even after seeing him play 100’s of high school game, even after knowing his size, his strength, his skills and all of his untapped potential, even I couldn’t be sure what type of player Pearson would become for the Lights.
But after watching him the last 14 games of the season, I wonder no longer. Pearson has averaged 12 points and six rebounds during that stretch, he’s hit a game-winning shot, made big free throws, played outstanding defense and has steadily taken the reigns as one of Northern’s emotional leaders.
And with all of that, I think it’s fair to say the Lights wouldn’t be in Kansas City right now if Pearson hadn’t have become the player he is today.
And his coach and teammates are talking notice.
“Corbin really started to realize how good he could be at this level,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “And we saw the transformation when he basically carried us to that win over Great Falls at home. He had already been playing really well before that, but that was a true turning point for him. And he’s just continued to get better and better. He’s been phenomenal down the stretch this season. And we needed him to be. He’s really stepped up big, and as a leader too. He’s been a policeman on this team. He gets guys focused, gets them where they need to be and gets them motivated. That’s a lot for a sophomore to take on, but he’s cherished that role, and I’m just really proud of him for that.
“I remember seeing Corbin as a senior at the HIT tournament,” added senior Devin Jackson. “I saw the fire in his game then, and I knew how good of a player he was. And he’s just kept growing. He’s got a great game, he makes a lot of things happen, he works really hard and he’s a leader. He’s an emotional guy and he’s really become a great leader and a great player.”
That’s high praise from one of the all-time greats to play at Northern. And Pearson, who has always been humble, turns right around and credits Jackson for the rise in his game.
“’D’ (Jackson) has showed me a lot, I’ve learned so much from him,” Pearson said. “He’s showed me what it takes to be a big-time player in this league and a big-time student-athlete too. He’s been a role model for me, on and off the floor. From day one, I climbed on his back and just wanted to learn from him. He’s our leader and he’s meant so much to my career. He’s showed me how a big-time player does it at this level, and I’m so lucky that I have gotten to be around him for these last couple of years.
“Coach Huse has also been great,” he added. “Every day, you learn something new from him, about life, or basketball. He has taught me what it means to work hard and pay attention to the little details. To make sure you do the little things each day, each practice, each game. That’s meant a lot to me, and to my game.”
And Pearson does do the little things for the Lights. He’s come up with big blocks, big offensive rebounds, hustle plays, he makes his free throws, he directs traffic on defense and he’s always around the ball. Couple that with his basketball talent, his touch around the rim, his ability to step and shoot, his ability to defend bigger players, his soft hands and everything else you see in him, and you have a sophomore who’s already an all-conference performer, and player who is destined to be one of the best in the Frontier Conference the nest two years, if he isn’t already.
“Corbin saw an opportunity,” Huse said. “An opportunity to step and say ‘why not me?’ And that’s what he’s done. He saw we needed someone else to step up and be a threat on both ends of the floor and he became that guy. He’s had a great season. He’s grown a ton and he will keep getting better and better. I’m just so proud of him.
“My confidence level is really what has helped me with my game,” Pearson added. “I’m playing a lot more minutes now and coach has trust in me to take shots, to be the guy to make plays. And once I started getting more opportunities and making more plays to help this team, my confidence just grew. That’s been the biggest thing. That and having such great teammates. These guys have all helped me grow as a player and it’s just a great feeling to play on a team like this.”
Confidence is big for a basketball player. It’s a huge asset. Corbin Pearson has that now, and his game is reaching new heights. I’ve watched him play a lot of basketball over the years and I’m not surprised by the success he’s having. And I won’t be surprised as Pearson continues to take his game to new levels, and the Lights with him.