The bus rides are the worst. Riding to a game three or four hours away gives Skyelar Potter more down time than he wants, and his mind drifts to the painful events of Dec. 1 when his stepmother died unexpectedly.
Donna Kaye Potter suffered a fatal heart attack at age 38. And the Wright State freshman guard, who considered her like another mom, is still dealing with the void.
“It’s been really difficult,” Potter said. “Her passing away hurt the flow of everything and put me off. I’m trying to keep it together, but whenever we have off time, it’s hard. She’s always on my mind.”
He’s sometimes acted out in ways that have surprised even him.
“I just blow up,” he said. “I don’t really talk to people. I’m not the type of person to tell people about my personal life. I try to keep my thoughts to myself.
“But I’ve had some struggles with the team, just frustrations. I’ve said some things. That’s why I really haven’t been out there (playing as much) lately. I was a bad teammate. I’m trying to get everything back on track.”
Potter had some inspired performances off the bench immediately after her death — he scored 17, 6, 17 and 12 points in the next four games — but he was operating on fumes, and his play dropped off dramatically after that.
He would score 19 points over the next eight games, shooting 29 percent from the field, and his average dipped from 8.8 to 6.3.
But the springy Bowling Green, Ky., product looked like the Potter of old in back-to-back wins over Milwaukee and Green Baylast week, racking up a combined 24 points and 12 rebounds. He’s playing with great energy again, and he appears to have everything back on track.
“I’m really pleased with how he’s coming along. He’s starting to see things differently,” coach Scott Nagy said.
“What he’s really been doing well is cutting. He’s at the rim quite a bit. I always tell our guys, ‘If you really want to score and score consistently, get to the free-throw line. That’s how you do it.’ He’s been able to shoot a lot of free throws because he’s so physical.”
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The 6-foot-3 Potter went 6 of 9 from the field and 11 of 15 on foul shots in the last two games. And the Raiders even ran a special out-of-bounds play just for him against Green Bay.
While everyone else cleared out of the lane, they lobbed the ball near the basket. He out-jumped his defender and scored with ease.
The Raiders don’t have another player capable of doing that.
“We check matchups, and that was a good match up, so it was easy to throw it over the top.” Nagy said.
Potter said: “I’m just out there playing my role, playing defense. That’s what coach says to do. Put defense first and offense secondary.”
The Raiders have struggled with knowing how to handle Potter while he’s still mourning. They went as a team to his step-mother’s viewing, which lifted his spirits, but Nagy admits it’s a challenge to know how hard he can push a player going through such a difficult time.
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Although Potter isn’t one to open up to others, his teammates have offered their support.
“We all let him know we’re there for him,” junior Bill Wampler said. “Sometimes, when he’s in a bad spot, the older guys will kind of keep him in check and make sure he’s doing the right things — just being the best student-athlete he can be. He’s trying to work through some things. And we’re basically one big family, trying to help him get through all this stuff.”
That recent spurt was encouraging to all.
“It’s good to kind of see him back to the way he was and confident in who he is as a player,” Wampler said.