By TOM BONE
If you get on U.S. Route 52 southbound in Cincinnati, Ohio, you will eventually find yourself in Mercer County.
That’s where three basketball players from the southwest Ohio metropolitan area have found themselves, playing significant minutes for Kent McBride’s Concord University squad.
Mike Boyd, a starter for the Mountain Lions almost all of last year, had kept up with fellow Cincinnatians Alex McGlothin and Paul Byrd — and ultimately helped invite them to join him in Athens after they toiled for a year in Northern Kentucky University’s hoops program.
Boyd said, “I knew both of them since elementary school, AAU (basketball) and what-not. ... We competed with each other since, like, third grade.”
Without much prompting, McGlothin recalled his Walnut Hills High School Eagles battling against Boyd’s Lakota East Thunderhawks from a Cincinnati-area community, Liberty Hills, in the state playoffs.
“That was the only time Mike’s team had beaten us in 10 or 12 years, something like that,” McGlothin said. “But it was always competitive, playing with Mike and Byrd.”
He said that Walnut Hills scrimmaged Byrd’s team from Roger Bacon High School every preseason, and he regularly played Boyd is summer AAU competition.
Byrd said, “My AAU team didn’t really have a good record against those guys, but we put up a good effort.”
Boyd said, “Whenever our teams played ... you knew it was going to be a good game.”
Though McGlothin and Byrd chose to enroll as freshmen at Northern Kentucky, Concord’s McBride did not give up on them. Boyd said, “He knew I knew them so he told me to hit ’em up if I could.”
He contacted McGlothin, who Boyd said was “friends with one of my best friends who went to my high school. ... They played on the same AAU team, so that’s how I got to be friends with Alex.”
McGlothin, who had to recover from a torn knee ligament, said about their transfer, “It was just kind of a mutual feeling. We just felt like it was best for Paul and (me) to get a different start, to try to start fresh, so we decided to come here.”
“We really liked the atmosphere, our teammates are cool with it. We just wanted to play.”
Byrd said, “NKU, it was real nice, it was real close to home, which I liked, but something just didn’t feel right, being there.
“After I decided I was going to go there, I got a call from Coach (McBride), and I came down here and visited. I just really like the atmosphere around here, and really like the campus.”
Each has had to deal with the differences between the bright lights of Cincinnati and the rural culture of southern West Virginia.
Boyd said, “It’s a lot different. Last year, the first couple of months, I was like, ‘Man, I want to go home.’ But I got used to it. ... I want to go home, but it’s not a priority, now. It’s different, but the people around campus, are real nice, and they’re real cool.”
McGlothlin said, “It’s definitely different from the big city. But probably because it’s a small town, I just feel like it’s a real cozy space. Especially with the guys on my team, and coaches — they ARE my family.
“It just makes everything so easy, (instead of) being more difficult than it should be. Culture-wise, it’s definitely different, but I’ve definitely come to get used to it.”
He said McBride’s phone calls gave him and his mother “a sense of comfort” about his move south. “Being 5 1/2 hours away, it’s just totally different, but the guys on the team just make it seem like we’re all a really nice family,” he said.
Byrd said, “It was definitely hard for me, just because it’s so far away from home. I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters, and I’d never really been away from home before.
“So coming down here, the first couple of weeks, it was a little struggle. I got to go back home and visit, (and) ever since I came back, I like it down here. Everybody gets along really well, the people are real nice. Really, the transition wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.”
“And the mountains. I love the mountains. Being down here, it’s a beautiful place.”
It also helps that they are not relegated to the bench during games.
McGlothin said, “I really didn’t think I was going to see the floor that much. But with the way our practices are, we’re really competitive. You’ve got nothing to do but to fight for playing time. But hard work pays off, and everyone on the team is just working hard.”
Byrd said, “Like Alex said, every day we compete for playing time. The way we’re going to play, we’re going to sub in and out; we press the whole game. Everybody’s going to get the chance (to play). We’re 12 deep, 14 deep.”
Boyd, a 6-foot guard, started 28 of Concord’s 29 games last season, averaging 7.9 points per game, and making 41 percent of his field-goal tries and 80 of 112 free throws. He averaged 2.9 rebounds per game and racked up 23 steals and five blocked shots.
In the first three games this season, Boyd made just two of 10 field-goal attempts but was 10 for 12 in free throws. He also has five assists, four steals and two turnovers.
Byrd, a 6-foot-2 guard, played for the Spartans of Roger Bacon High School in the region’s Greater Catholic League.
At Concord, prior to Tuesday’s game, he has averaged 11.3 points per game, playing about 21 minutes per contest, and was a perfect 11 for 11 at the free throw line. He was 9 for 14 shooting from the floor and had 11 assists, eight rebounds and four turnovers in those first three games.
McGlothin, a 6-foot-5 forward, played in two games prior to Tuesday night, clocking 49 minutes on the floor, and has gone 6 for 8 from the field and 3 for 6 at the foul line.
Like Boyd, he also has five assists, four steals and two turnovers.
Boyd said that the individuals on the CU roster have been learning how to put their talents together as a team.
“We’ve figured out working hard,” he said. “We’ve got to work hard every day to be the best team that we can be. I think that’s going to help us in the long run. ... We play hard. We play real hard. That’s basically what you’ve got to do.
“You’ve got to have communication on the court and all that. You’ve got to listen to Coach; you’ve got to have everyone on the same page.
“I think Coach K’s done a good job of trying to bring us together as a team.”
Concord’s next game is at West Virginia State on Nov. 29. The Mountain Lions’ next home contest is a non-conference matchup with West Virginia Tech on Dec. 3.
— Contact Tom Bone at