Belmont’s Mick Hedgepeth uses what he loves - basketball - to teach kids about faith and life
Unless the Belmont University basketball team takes a spin as Cinderella in the 2012 NCAA Tournament – and nobody connected to the Bruins is ready to cross that off their to-do list – the likelihood of a Mick Hedgepeth’s name rolling off the tongues of college basketball fans isn’t very likely.
That suits the 6-foot-9 senior just fine and seems to fit with his personality and what he has accomplished in four seasons on and off the court.
Hedgepeth is one of 10 finalists for the 2011-12 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award for men’s basketball.
You just have to go off the beaten path to find out more about the Crossville, Ala., native. That’s fitting, because the limelight isn’t something Hedgepeth makes a habit of seeking out.
Not that there isn’t plenty of reason for Hedgepeth to thump his chest.
On the court, Hedgepeth is a third-year starter for a Bruins team that is making another bid for an Atlantic Sun Conference championship after punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament last season, where Belmont pushed Wisconsin in the first round before falling 72-58.
Hedgepeth is supplying around 10 points and 6 rebounds a game, sharing the center job with fellow senior Scott Saunders. That willingness to split time in the post is a snapshot of his role as a leader, one he’s held as the men’s basketball representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee since he arrived on campus.
This season Hedgepeth’s teammates elected him a team captain – “despite him not being a real vocal guy,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said.
Off the court, though, Hedgepeth’s contributions make much more of an impact.
He has gone on three summer mission trips, traversing the world from South Africa to Malta to Italy. The crux of the trips is sports evangelism – a chance for college athletes to spend time with and mentor less privileged youth.
“It’s a chance to use something I love – playing ball – to get their attention and then sit down with them, talk about faith and life,” Hedgepeth said. “It’s neat to be able to use what you love as a platform to reach others and try to give back. I love trying to connect with young people and that’s what I enjoy about the trips.”
That desire to connect from people isn’t something Hedgepeth has to work at.
Hedgepeth credited high school coach Tracy Hulgan for inspiring him to give back. Byrd is less reserved about where most of the credit goes.
The Bruins’ coach said when he glanced at the biographical information on Hedgepeth when he was first nominated for the CLASS Award, he was amazed at home much off-court accomplishments there were that he didn’t even know about.
“He’s just a very unselfish natured kid,” Byrd said. “A lot of that comes from his faith to begin with. He’s been raised in a household and community where he’s been taught to think first of others and for those who are less fortunate.
“But it’s also just part of this young man’s DNA. All the things he’s done away from the court, he’s done for all that for the right reasons. He’s not trying to build a resume. You can come here to our camps and do nothing but go to school and play basketball, and nobody would think anything about it. He doesn’t do what he does for PR reasons. He does it because that’s where his heart is.”
Never was that truer than in the spring of 2010 when historically damaging flood waters seeped into Nashville and disrupted lives all around Music City.
Asked by a friend to come and help strip a house that was in harm’s way, Hedgepeth didn’t flinch. He wound up becoming part of an impromptu army of students from Green Hills Church who went from house to house in the flooded zones to lend a hand, stripping the homes in danger and then helping rebuild them after the waters subsided.
“That was just a time for us to pull together as a community,” Hedgepeth said nonchalantly. “That was just something I felt like I needed to do.”
That’s the same frame of mind Hedgepeth approaches his role as a student-athlete – both words being equally important to him.
Entering his senior year, Hedgepeth boasted a 3.71 grade-point average in accounting. He has been lauded as a 2010-11 NACDA Scholar-Athlete of the Year at Belmont and has been a constant on the Atlantic Sun Conference All-Academic list.
Why? It may just go back to that DNA notion Byrd alluded to.
“I’m just a very competitive person in whatever I do, so when I go into the classroom, I imagine it as a game of one-on-one with the teacher and I have to get an A to pass,” Hedgepeth said.
“The ball is going to quit bouncing at some point for everybody, and it’s the things you learn from basketball that count. I’ve learned discipline, determination, balancing my time. On the court, you play as hard as you can and you should live life as hard as you can, too.”