Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

In the spring of 2013, newly hired Columbia College basketball coach Rob Hoyt was watching a video of the Summerville Bears vs. the Liberty Ranch Hawks in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division IV section championship game.

The new coach was hoping to get a good look at local Summerville players who might fit his first-year team.

He was fixated on Liberty Ranch’s No. 34. After making a few calls, Hoyt discovered that No. 34 was Michael Meserole. Hoyt knew he wanted Meserole to be a Claim Jumper.

“He’s kind of like a boxer with his build, but he had finesse to his game,” Hoyt said. “I thought he was better than what he looks like, because he didn’t come across as having the very finesse characteristics of a basketball player. Visually, he’s more of a hit-you-in-the-face-and-keep-going-at-you guy. What we thought he would be, is exactly what he is.”

Three years later, after two seasons playing at Columbia, Meserole committed to play basketball at California Maritime Academy in Vallejo. He made the decision official this week when he signed his National Letter of Intent to become a Keelhauler.

From an early age, Meserole knew he wanted to play basketball. While some kids pretended they were cowboys, firemen or astronauts, Meserole only wanted a basketball in his hands.

“I’ve been playing basketball since I could walk,” Meserole said. “I remember as a kid playing on a little hoop that my parents gave me. I would go out back and dunk and shoot.”

Meserole’s father, also named Mike, introduced his son to basketball. But when Meserole entered sixth-grade his father took the training wheels off and forced his son to improve on his own.

“Basketball was just something that was natural for me, and it’s something I put a lot of time into,” Meserole said. “Early on, I could tell that I was better than most kids my age and it was something that I stuck with.”

It wasn’t until a successful junior season at Liberty Ranch that Meserole started to believe he had what it takes to play college basketball. That year, he averaged 20 points per game and led the Hawks with 504 total points and 137 rebounds.

In his senior year, Meserole led Liberty Ranch to the section championship. He had a persistent drive to improve, not for his own personal statistics, but for the success of the team.

“I wasn’t playing as an individual, I just wanted to win,” Meserole said. “I knew that the better I got, I would be able to help my team.”

Following his senior season, Meserole garnered a lot of looks from various colleges besides Columbia. When Hoyt made an offer, Meserole declined. Instead, he chose William Jessup University in Rocklin.

“I really wanted him for my first season here,” Hoyt said. “I was disappointed when he decided to go there because they didn’t have a head coach at the time, so I thought we were going to get him.”

Meserole redshirted his first year at William Jessup and in the spring of 2014, he knew he wanted to play elsewhere.

While weighing his options, Hoyt and Columbia College remained in the back of his mind. The only question would be whether Hoyt still wanted Meserole.

“He called the following spring and he and his father came up and that was a done deal,” Hoyt said. “They tried to give me film, but I told them that I didn’t want any film because I wanted him last year. I knew he was going to be better because he just had a full year of practicing. I was very excited when he came.”

Hoyt was turning Columbia into a winning program, and that was something that Meserole had been a part of while at Liberty Ranch and wanted to repeat as a Claim Jumper.

“At Liberty, we weren’t really good until my senior year when we went sections,” Meserole said. “So I like building programs up, and I knew that was what Hoyt was trying to do at Columbia. I just wanted to be a part of it.”

In his first season at Columbia, Meserole averaged 10.3 points per game.

When Hoyt assembled the 2015-16 Jumpers, Meserole was the only returning player with game experience. With eight new players, Hoyt needed Meserole to help him out both on and off the court.

“We leaned on him a lot, and in a lot of ways, I felt bad that he was in that situation where he’s surrounded by all new faces,” Hoyt said. “And those guys are great guys, but to go through that alone, and it’s kind of just me and him trying to work out the different things that happened throughout the course of the year.”

Having new teammates was nothing new for Meserole. He was the new guy while at William Jessup and his first year at Columbia. So to learn how to play with new talent was something that was becoming second nature.

“It’s all about how much time you spend with the guys and how close you can get with them, that way they can open up to you, whether it’s on or off the court,” Meserole said. “The closer you get, the better the chemistry is on the court and that is the most important part of playing with a new group of guys.”

Meserole led the Jumpers to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, and in the midst of a successful season, he began to attract attention from four-year universities.

Cal Maritime and Columbia have a solid working relationship. Currently, Danny Radford and Travis Arenas, both former Jumpers under Hoyt, are members of the Maritime basketball team. With two ex-Columbia players on the team, Hoyt knew how much head coach Bryan Rooney wanted another one.

“They knew how good he is and valued him,” Hoyt said. “I think they wanted him more than anybody. I had a lot of schools call about him and when we narrowed it down, they wanted him more than anybody else and they showed that. It’s really important to go where you are wanted.”

The tradition of winning and the similarities in coaches is what drew Meserole to the Cal Maritime basketball program.

“The bond I had with the coach is similar with the one I have with Coach Hoyt,” Meserole said. “Cal Maritime has a very successful program where they have won the league three out of the last seven years. They have been the elite eight and the sweet 16. So the program is successful and I really like the Bay Area.”

For Arenas, he is thrilled to be reunited with his former teammate and ex roommate.

“I could not be more excited to play with a guy of his caliber skill wise and more importantly a great friend of mine that I can’t wait to be wearing the same uniform as again,” Arenas said. “He will be a perfect fit because he is a guy of great skill and values, we are a culture program and he’s a genuine guy with a competitive edge. He’s a creative scorer and takes pride in defense.”

While at Cal Maritime, Meserole plans on majoring in international business and hopes to one day get into marketing or management.

While he may not look like a prototypical college basketball player, Meserole has the intangibles that cannot be measured.

“People can look at me and see a six-foot white guy, who’s not that fast and can’t jump over the rim,” Meserole said. “But it’s my basketball IQ and just how versatile I am is what makes me the player that I am.”

Cal Maritime finished the 2016 season 23-10 and made it into the NAIA National Tournament Sweet 16. Hoyt knows that Meserole will not only be a successful Keelhauler, but he will be successful once he steps away from the court.

“It’s because of his makeup,” Hoyt said. “He’s so even-keel and that is such a great quality to have. At the end of the day, good things happen to good people and he maximises that because of his work ethic.”