There are two things you will come to find out if you spend enough time with Rod Singleton.
For one, he smiles: He laughs and he does have fun on and off the court.
Secondly, if there’s anything that does bother Singleton – whether it’s the Bobcats record, losing streaks or a poor grade he got on a test – he won’t divulge much about it.
That’s how he knows life: Be tough; don’t let anyone see you weak.
It’s not like he doesn’t have emotion. Anyone who has seen more than five minutes of Bobcat basketball in the past two seasons – heck, if you’ve watched Singleton go one trip up and down the court – can attest to his vocal ability, especially if things aren’t going properly.
But Singleton was raised from a young age to be “the floor general” on the court, and generals do not show emotion. As men of pride and honor, as symbols of a collective unit, as leaders, they are expected to be straight and calm throughout any situation.
A general gives orders, points the way. He never waivers in confidence or conviction, and he makes minute-by-minute assessments as any conflict – or in this case practice session or game – goes on.
Singleton ran the open gym sessions during the summer, integrating the youthful experience the Bobcats retained from last season with the older inexperience MSU brought in as four of the five new players came from the junior college ranks. Teammates note he leads more by example, putting in the time on the court, in the weight room and in film sessions as a guide along with the coaching staff.
However, it’s not to say he won’t open his mouth to express something, be it happiness or discontent.
“When we need to get going, he’s the one who steps up and says something,” sophomore forward Shawn Reid said. “That’s the one thing we expect from him – he’s definitely the vocal leader of the team.”
Singleton’s first experience at the point guard position, and lesson from it, came at an early age.
“I learned that back when I was about nine or 10 years old,” Singleton said. “My first AAU coach told me I had to be a general on the floor. Once I heard that – I know generals are going to be vocal, they’re going to let you know what you have to do and also show you what you have to do. I wanted to be that kind of figure.”
Singleton has carried that mission forth since then.
He was a three-year starter for Fairfax High in Los Angeles, and helped lead a star-studded team – UNLV’s Chace Stanback and UCLA’s Josh Shipp were members of the squad – to a 2007 L.A. city championship and a California State Division 1A championship. At Antelope Valley Community College, Singleton was a first-team all-conference point guard both seasons despite the team struggling to an 18-14 record during Singleton’s sophomore season.
He came to Bozeman, kicked a fast-food habit which dogged him through most of junior college, and became MSU’s on-court guide from almost the moment he stepped on the court.
“He’s, in a lot of ways, the heart and soul of our team,” MSU head coach Brad Huse noted. “He brings such great toughness and intensity and he’s always really engaged in everything we do verbally and through his actions.”
Most people might think he’s out of his mind.
During a game, if Singleton sees even the slightest hint of an opening, he’ll hurtle his generously listed 5-foot-10 frame through time and space towards the basketball hoop, even as the walls close in around him. Often Singleton will end up crashing through a heap of bodies, all bigger in size and possibly stature, or bouncing off them in a whirlwind after collision occurs.
There are countless nouns and adjectives to describe actions Singleton, and hundreds of other smaller-sized athletes, perform: they are referred to as pitbulls or bulldogs; are said to “run through brick walls” to help their team. Singleton even practiced “so hard he passed out” former Antelope Valley head coach Deiter Horton told the Chronicle shortly after Singleton signed. It also happened during a summer practice session in Bozeman before Singleton’s junior year.
Huse points to one statistic to describe his point guard – offensive charges. Before Saturday’s contest in Missoula, Singleton recorded 23 charges, which “has to be a league-high for guards and certainly high on our team,” Huse noted.
“That says a lot about a player,” the MSU coach added. “I’ve coached very few along the way that will do that.”
To Singleton, it’s another example of what a general does.
“I have that mindset … of doing whatever I can to provide for my team,” he said. “I love that identity, that ‘pitbull’ or whatever people call it. I like it. It describes my game.”
The L.A. native sports other symbols which describe not only his game, but himself.
His left shoulder sports a basketball, flanked by the words ‘HOT’ above and ‘ROD’ below. The basketball and nickname are engulfed in flames.
The moniker was first bestowed upon him by current Washington Wizards guard Nick Young while playing as a teenager at Los Angeles’ famed Robertson Park. It’s stuck ever since.
Emblazoned on Singleton’s right shoulder is a portrait of Jesus Christ, and the script ‘King of Kings’ underneath. On his chest, scripted out, is the phrase “Only the strong survive.”
It is a phrase Singleton thinks about often, especially during his tenure in Bozeman. He’s seen two nine-game losing streaks; taken more charges than any guard should have to; and kept his mind and team focused through a myriad of doubters and situations on and off the court he had no control over.
“It just helps me think about everything I’ve been through in my life,” Singleton said regarding the words on his chest. “I always realize the people who are strongest, they end up surviving in the end. It completed the story for me.”
Gidal Kaiser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2670.