By Michael Buhler
Even though he is one of the major architects of the renaissance of the Newman Jets men’s basketball program, Mark Potter still is honored to have the basketball court at the university named after him and his family.
“It’s an incredible honor. It’s one I’m thankful for and it’s very humbling,” Potter, a resident of Cheney, said. “Usually you don’t get an honor like that unless you’re older or retired. Words almost can’t describe how I feel. We’ve all been floored so to speak.”
The Potters received that honor on Feb. 2, when the court at Fugate Gymnasium, the home floor of the Jets, was named after Potter and his family. The fact that it was named after Potter and his family – and not after Potter – was fitting, Potter said.
“I didn’t want it to say ‘Mark Potter Court.’ It wouldn’t be fair – there are so many people involved in me getting to where I’m at,” Potter said. “It’s not just family – there are players, coaches and many more that go beyond my immediate family.”
The Potters were honored by the school after a successful run that began 15 years ago, when Newman resurrected men’s basketball and asked Potter, then the basketball coach at Wichita South High School, to coach the second incarnation of the Jets.
“When we first restarted the program 15 years ago, I’d never really recruited at the college level,” Potter said. “After my third-place game at Wichita South, I stayed for the State championship game and recruited.
“The first year I was here, we ended up 13-18 and lost many of those games on the last possession. We added about three players to that team for my second year and we really took off. It took a lot of hard work – I put in14-16 hours a day to get things going. I’m thankful to have an incredible wife and family – I was never home there for a while.”
But that hard work paid off. The Jets became a national power in the NAIA before making the jump to NCAA Division II. Since then, the Jets have qualified for the Heartland Conference tournament each of the last three years and finished 18-9 last season.
“We had a lot of challenges ahead of us,” Potter said. “We weathered the storm. I’m just thankful God has given me the opportunity and blessed me.”
Potter’s road to success on the collegiate hardwood began in Cheney, where Potter coached the Cardinals for five seasons after graduating from Newman in 1986. While coaching Cheney, Potter led the Cards to the State finals in 1989.
“I’ll always be thankful to (former Cheney superintendent) Don Wells, (former principal) Dick Wells and the Board of Education that decided to take a chance on a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college,” Potter said. “They gave me the opportunity to start my head coaching career. I’ll always be thankful for that opportunity. It wasn’t always an easy task, but those five years in Cheney really started to shape me as a coach because you start to figure out who you are and what your philosophy is.”
Potter also is thankful for his wife, Nanette, who is a long-time reading teacher at Cheney Elementary School.
“Nanette and I have been together 28 years,” Potter said. She’s my high school sweetheart and the only girlfriend I’ve ever had. She’s one special woman. She’s been by my side every day. She’s raised the kids when I’m gone. Without a strong woman like my wife, I couldn’t do it. It takes a really special woman to do that, and she is that person.”
This year might be the Jets’ best yet in Division II. Newman is 17-4 on the year and 7-3 in the Heartland Conference. The Jets also received votes in the Feb. 5 NCAA Division II by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
“We’ve got a pretty special team this year, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Potter said. “There’s a lot of parity in college basketball. For us to have an opportunity to get ranked this year is great, but we’ve got a long way to go. It’s just taking it one day at a time.”