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In A Losing Season, One Player Leaves St. Michael's With A Winning Legacy

James Buck
Matt Bonds is one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the St. Michael's College team. His teammates and coach said his worth ethic and attitude have made a mark on the program.

There have been a lot of losses for the St. Michael’s men’s basketball team this season — 19 defeats and five wins — although they have been competitive in almost every game they've played.

With that record, the team doesn't get a lot of attention outside of their Colchester campus, especially in a year when the University of Vermont men’s basketball team are setting records for wins.

But it has been a special year for St. Mike's because of power forward Matt Bonds.

Bonds will be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players in the school's history as he plays the final game of his St. Michael’s career Tuesday night against Stonehill College.

The numbers are staggering: More than 1,500 career points and 18 double-doubles this season. (That's hoops talk for reaching double digits in at least two categories — points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks — in a single game, and he ranks second in Division II this season in that category.)

Rebounds are a Matt Bonds specialty. Among all active NCAA Division I, II and III men's players, Bonds is second all-time in career rebounds, with 1,089. And that number will go higher after his final game Tuesday, when he may find himself just the second player in program history to record 1,500 points and at least 1,100 rebounds.

"Matt's had a huge impact on the culture of this program, as a four-year player and a two-year captain and just a great leader who's really, really influenced a lot of other guys who've come through this program." — Head Coach Josh Meyer

But if Matt Bonds were just about numbers, he wouldn't have been such an influence on teammates such as sophomore shooting guard Levi Holmes.

"I learned a lot from him,” Holmes said. “Just his worth ethic, mostly, cause that’s all he does — he’s a worker.”

Head coach Josh Meyer couldn't agree more.

“Matt’s had a huge impact on the culture of this program, as a four-year player and a two-year captain and just a great leader who’s really, really influenced a lot of other guys who’ve come through this program,” Meyer said.

"Knowing what was important to me was academics first and basketball, I could balance those two out pretty well if I put a lot of intention and focus on them." — Matt Bonds

Bonds, 6-foot-5 and the star of the basketball team, is easy to notice on campus.

But despite all the accolades from what he does on the court, he's never lost his focus on academics, evidenced by his 4.0 grade point average this past semester, and a stint on the dean's list.

“Knowing what was important to me was academics first and basketball, I could balance those two out pretty well if I put a lot of intention and focus on them. So not getting distracted, I think that really helped,” Bonds said.

Bonds grew up Accokeek, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., and reminders of home are never far, because his parents come to his games.

Not just a few, not just most, not just for his senior year, but every game. For the past four years, Bonds has had at least one parent at every one of his games, home or away.

“If I was going to work hard, then they were going to work hard for me,” Bonds said. “If I showed the focus and the desire to be good in something, they were going to show the support in whatever I was doing.”

Credit James Buck
Matt Bonds points to his parents in the stands after receiving a ball to commemorate reaching 1,000 points scored during his St. Michael's basketball career.

Bond said he knows exactly where his parents are every game because they sit in the same spot each time.

“Even in the away games I generally know exactly where they are, I always look at them,” he said.

Toni Bonds is Bond’s mother. She said the drive from Maryland to Vermont takes between 10 and 12 hours. Once the season ends, she plans to add up all the miles she's traveled to make every one of her son's games for the past four years.

She said she makes the trip for “unity within the family.”

The closest she and her husband ever came to missing a game was an away game, when heavy traffic in New York almost spoiled their record.

Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
Toni Bonds and her husband have traveled to all of their son's basketball games while he's been a student at St. Michael's College.

“We got to the school maybe within five minutes from the ending of the game but it was awesome experience just to be there to interact with Matt after the game,” she said.

Losing isn't easy for any competitive athlete. The difficulty for St. Michael's stems from a decision made in the 1970s: Play in a very competitive Division II or move to Division III, and in doing so, forfeit the ability to offer basketball scholarships — like the one that brought in Bonds.

As a result, this small school in northern Vermont routinely plays against bigger Division II schools that have tougher overall rosters, so it's hard to put together a winning season.

But elite athletes like Bonds have a will to win, and Meyer says Bonds can single-handedly take over a game.

“We had a game at Pace [University],” Meyer said. “We were down late in the game and I think that Matt had several steals and just really willed us to a win in that game. Wouldn’t let the team stop playing and kind of put everyone on his back.  [He] ended up getting a steal at the end and getting fouled and made a free throw, a bank-shot free throw to win the game.”

Perhaps the thing that really defines Bonds is what he said about the first game of his final season against St. Thomas Aquinas.

“We lost in the end, but they were ranked third at the time at the time,” Bond said. “I  just think seeing the overall team effort and the way that we were one group and we worked together, even though we didn’t prevail in the end, it was really inspiring to see team mates have each other’s back and doing everything they could for each other.”

Bonds is graduating with a major in psychology, and said he'd like to try playing basketball professionally overseas.

If that doesn't work out, he's also considering a career in law enforcement closer to his home in Maryland. Then, at least, his mom and dad wouldn't have to travel so far to cheer him on.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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