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Height doesn't always measure basketball might

The area under the basket is a confined space where tall guys collide.

It doesn't seem like the place Mitch Foster would thrive. But the Mitchell forward is a post-modern postman. Though he is only 6-feet-3, Foster uses his skill and savvy in the middle to help his team score down low.

"I'm sure everyone wishes they were taller," Foster said. "I wish I was about 6-6 or 6-7. I guess things didn't work out. But I don't mind playing inside. I know the offense is centered around me there."

That doesn't mean Foster always has his back to the basket. Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz normally runs a flex offense, which is based on players moving around. But whenever Schmitz needs points in the paint, he calls on Foster, who has become his best scoring option.

Because he is the Mustangs' post-up player, Foster was asked to play around the basket at times against Gulf on Tuesday. It was a challenge considering the Buccaneers have one of the tallest frontcourts in the county, with David Frazier (6-7), Corey Crossway (6-5), Troy Herritt (6-4) and Travis Thomas (6-7).

Foster did his best to dodge the knees, elbows and forearms in his path. He scored a team-high 16 in a 44-40 loss.

"Mitch is a very smart player and knows what he's doing inside," Schmitz said. "He's learned how to play bigger than he really is."

Who says you can't teach height? Foster is a new breed of big man in the county. He is a shorter, but no less effective, inside player who uses smarts, speed, brawn and old-fashioned fundamentals to thrive in the paint. Yet, he is still dangerous in the open floor.

Playing against athletes who might have been linebackers or defensive ends in another era, Foster knew that bulk would be more important than height if he hoped to score near the basket.

That's why Foster lived in the weight room between seasons. He added 20 pounds and now weighs 206. He also added 35 pounds to his bench press.

"What I lack in height, I make up for in strength and hard work," Foster said. "With the guys I'm guarding, I'm usually stronger and can body them up. That's because of what I did this summer."

When Foster was not in the weight room, he was on the court. He played more than 50 AAU games and learned how to become a reliable inside scorer by mastering the complex choreography of drop steps and up-and-under moves.

"I know Mitch is extremely competitive," Schmitz said. "He plays year-round and worked quite a bit this offseason. He's made a huge improvement."

So far, Foster has had a breakout season, combining his multiple skills as an inside scorer and passer with an efficient 3-point shot. He is averaging 17 points, an eight-point improvement from last season.

Against Pasco last month, Foster scored 27, hitting five 3-pointers.

"The newspaper actually had me scoring 37 that night," Foster said. "It was a misprint."

Still, we get the point. Foster can score.

This year, Foster has had to do more. Mitchell's point guard, D.J. Crosby, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. That means Foster is not just the main scoring threat, but also the team leader. It is a role he has embraced.

"I've always liked to think of myself as a leader," Foster said. "Last year we had six seniors, so I didn't have to worry as much about becoming one. But this year was important, especially after D.J. went down. I knew I had to step up. We brought a lot of guys up from junior varsity, but we're progressing well.

"The goal is to just keep geting better."