‘It was divine intervention’
HUNTINGTON — Mikel Beyers saw the movie “We Are Marshall” a few years ago, but it didn’t leave an impression.
Then in March he watched the NCAA basketball tournament game on TV between the Marshall Thundering Herd and Wichita State, and it changed his life’s direction.
“The first time I saw them play I caught the end of the Wichita State game on one of the March Madness tournaments,” one of the newcomers on the Marshall University men’s basketball team said Monday before practice in Cam Henderson Center. “Toward the end of the game they flipped it over (to Marshall-Wichita State) because it was going to be an upset. It was amazing to watch. I liked watching them on TV.”
Marshall defeated the Shockers (81-75) in an NCAA East Regional first round game at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
Beyers is a 6-foot-8, 215-pound shooting forward who has long range on his 3-point shots and appears to be perfectly suited to play in Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni’s freewheeling system where everyone on the court has the green light to take good shots. Marshall was 10th nationally last season in scoring average (83.8) and 3-point field goals (362).
He is a Houston native who finished high school in Arizona and played last season at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. He has three years of NCAA Division I eligibility.
“I came on a visit around the middle of May, fell in love with the campus and signed two days after my visit,” Beyers said.
Beyers appeared in 28 games for the Mesa Thunderbirds, who aligned him under the basket, and he posted averages of 7.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 9.1 minutes per game. He stepped outside to shoot 3-pointers at a 48.3 percent clip on 29 of 60.
Spectators at his Marshall visit said he stepped on the court and hit 16 of 17 from the 3-point line.
The way he was used at Mesa definitely limited his exposure, Beyers said. The only other Division I school interested in him was St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, an Atlantic 10 Conference member.
“Other than that, it was a bunch of interest and no offers,” he said. “But I was able to do what I needed to do and got here. Very blessed to be in this situation. It was divine intervention me getting here.”
D’Antoni compares Beyers to Ajdin Penava, a 6-9 forward who left the Herd after last season and plays professionally in Spain.
“He is one of the most skilled players that we have,” D’Antoni said. “He plays very similar to Penava offensively. He can put it on the floor and when (point guard) Jon (Elmore) gets pressed hard he can throw it over to him and he can bring it up a lot like Penava.”
Marshall also needs Beyers to help around the basket. He said going against 6-10, 345-pound Iran Bennett every day in practice will help him get ready. Guarding and playing against Bennett is a tall task and will prepare him for anybody in the country because there’s nobody built like his redshirt freshman teammate, Beyers said.
D’Antoni said Beyers needs to improve defensively. He was small for a long time and tries to defend below his shoulders, the head coach said.
“We have to teach him to defend above his shoulders,” D’Antoni said. “Penava had that same problem, if you remember. He always would get fouls reaching down because he was smaller and grew big. He played like a small man.”
Beyers was on campus in August, but didn’t travel with the team to the Bahamas for three exhibition games because he was completing three online classes from junior college. The classes are finished, grades are in and he’s all ready for the season.
Mikel (pronounced Michael) Beyers has the same first name as his father, but a different middle name, so he’s not a junior. He’s wearing his father’s high school jersey No. 31.
His father’s company, US Foods, relocated them from Houston to Arizona and Beyers played his senior season at Dysart High School (Class of 2017) in El Mirage, Arizona, as a region player of the year who put up 17.2 points and 11.7 rebounds a game.