Flint, MI — Steve Schmidt’s basketball story started in the driveway of his family’s Lansing, Mich. home, where he would shoot hoops for hours on end with his friends and family.
“[We] would play until we couldn’t play anymore, but yeah, those were the days growing up,” Schmidt said.
In those early years, he said he dreamed of becoming a Division 1 (D1) basketball player, hoping to play just down the road at Michigan State University.
While Schmidt still lives nearby his childhood driveway — now serving as head coach of the Mott Community College (MCC) men’s basketball team in Flint — his journey to the Vehicle City saw him achieve his D1 dream and, most recently, inducted into the Lansing Sports Hall of Fame.
The Early Days
Schmidt began playing team basketball in elementary school.
He started out in Lansing’s Catholic Youth League before joining Waverly High School’s team, his interest in the sport growing year-to-year.
“That was my first introduction to competitive sports, and I just, you know, loved everything about it. Loved the practices, the games, the competition, and it just . . . kind of got me hooked,” he said.
Schmidt said during his early basketball career he was also inspired by his older brother, Rick.
“Growing up, I tried to follow his footsteps, and he was a really good all-around athlete,” he said.
Once Schmidt graduated high school, he hopped on a train to California to play basketball at West Valley College, a public community college in the Golden State.
“I went to college out there to pursue my dream of trying to get to a, you know, four-year university, a Division 1,” he said. “That was my dream growing up … it’s a lot of kids’ dreams, actually.”
Schmidt spent two years playing for West Valley, but despite making progress toward his D1 goal, he was homesick.
“The coach really made an impact, and I was able to work on the things I needed to work on to eventually reach my dream,” he said.
Eventually, that work paid off, and Schmidt was able to transfer back home to Central Michigan University in 1983.
His first year there, the young basketball player was “redshirted,” meaning he practiced with the team, but didn’t play in games.
Schmidt said that did not discourage him, though.
“I used it … to get better. It really was a good year for development for me,” he said.
After his redshirt season, Schmidt was able to play in games for two years before graduating in 1986.
“My teammates, to this day, at Central Michigan are some of my best friends in the world,” he said.
After graduating, Schmidt went on to play for the Washington Generals, an American basketball team that features in exhibition games against the Harlem Globetrotters.
From that vantage, he got to travel the world.
The experience, fresh from school, was eye-opening. Schmidt played games in 27 different countries for thousands of fans. He traveled to places like Australia and Italy, and he even shook hands with Pope John Paul II.
“I saw things right out of college at a young age and experienced things that a lot of people never get to experience,” he said. “I really enjoyed that as a first job.”
A Turn to Coaching
After hundreds of games over the course of two tours with the Generals, Schmidt decided it was time to be on the court in a different way.
“It took a toll, you know, physically because you played so many games. We only had one day off a week,” he explained.
So in 1988, Schmidt, then 26, moved back to Lansing.
There, he volunteered as a basketball coach at Waverly High School, his alma mater, as well as Lansing Community College.
“I would have two practices a day, I’d have four games a week — you know, two high school, two junior college games — and I got paid absolutely nothing to help assist. But that’s where I really learned a lot — in those early years of coaching. Even volunteering, I got a lot of responsibility,” he said.
A few years later, Schmidt interviewed to be the head coach for the men’s basketball team at Mott Community College in Flint.
He was offered the job in April 1991, but he turned it down.
“I can’t pinpoint why,” he said of that decision.
But then, one day in early September 1991, Schmidt said he felt compelled to drive to back to the Vehicle City.
He said he walked into MCC’s gym where a volleyball game was going on and talked to some of the students there.
Before he knew it, he was on his way to the athletic director’s office.
“If the job is still available, I’ll take it,” Schmidt told him.
From his head coach role, Schmidt guided MCC men’s basketball to its first National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) tournament in 2001. The team went on to earn its first NJCAA title in 2003.
Since then, he’s led the MCC Bears through back-to-back championships in 2007 and 2008, as well as another one in 2012. He also holds the most wins of any men’s coach in the history of Michigan Collegiate Coaches.
Schmidt now ranks 15th on the all-time NJCAA wins list. In total, he has led the MCC men’s basketball team to 796 wins over his decades-long career.
Accolades and Halls of Fame
Given his record, it came as no surprise that on Aug. 10, 2023, Coach Schmidt was inducted into the Lansing Sports Hall of Fame.
“It was special. It was special because my family was there, the family that I have left was there,” he said, adding that his best friends from both Lansing and Flint attended the ceremony in support.
While Lansing’s hall of fame is his most recent accolade, Schmidt is also a member of the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame and the NJCAA Men’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Along the way to all of Schmidt’s inductions, Mott Community College also renamed its gym, where the coach came on a whim and changed his mind about Flint, to be the “Steve Schmidt Gymnasium.”
He said at the end of the day, though, no matter the outside recognition and awards, one of his favorite parts of his job remains the support he’s found in the Flint community.
“I do think the support from the Flint area and all the people that I’ve met that have, you know, been with us — whether it was 30 years ago when we started, or just became a friend and fan of the program in the last five to 10 years — I appreciate all the support that I’ve gotten from this area . . . it’s been quite a journey,” he said.