REPUBLIC - Things are looking up for the Republic-Michigamme boys basketball program.
Not just because the youthful Hawks have more experience and are getting better, but also because of exchange student Jonatan Lygdman.
The native of Finland stands 6-foot-6, four inches taller than any other R-M player and more than a foot above several of the Hawks.
And he's one reason coach Bill Radcliffe has some lofty expectations this season.
"Our goal is to be a .500 team," he said. "We could do that if we don't have injury problems and everything breaks the right way for us."
That would indeed be impressive after R-M has won just three games since February 2007, all against Dollar Bay. One win broke a 67-game losing streak in January 2011 while the other two came last season in the Hawks' 2-19 campaign, Radcliffe's first.
Dec. 3 - Bark River-Harris, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 6 - At Forest Park, 8 p.m.
Dec. 10 - North Central, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 13 - Mid Peninsula, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 17 - Dollar Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 - At Ontonagon, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 7 - At Bark River-Harris, 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 - North Dickinson, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 - At Dollar Bay, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 17 - At Carney-Nadeau, 8 p.m.
Jan. 21 - Rapid River, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25 - At Baraga, 7:20 p.m.
Feb. 1 - At Chassell, 7:20 p.m.
Feb. 5 - At North Central, 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 - At North Dickinson, 8 p.m.
Feb. 12 - Forest Park, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 - Hannahville, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 19 - Carney-Nadeau, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 - At Mid Peninsula, 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 - At Rapid River, 7:30 p.m.
"We had a bunch of freshman and sophomores playing for us last season, and they've improved quite a bit from last year," the coach said. "At the end of last season, our younger guys picked up their games.
"Before that, their confidence just wasn't there going against older players."
While defense wasn't a major issue, the offense was as the now-graduated Jacob Finegan was the Hawks' only real option.
"Now we have several players, like David Simula, Marcus Antilla, Zach Kangas and Philip Koski, who we can turn to for scoring," Radcliffe said.
A number of Hawks worked hard on their games over the summer and it's shown in practice, according to their coach.
And of course, if those options don't pan out, there's always Lygdman, projected of course at center.
"He hasn't had a chance to practice with us yet, because he's on the Ishpeming football team," Radcliffe said about the Hematites who are playing in the MHSAA state Division 7 semifinals on Saturday morning.
"But I know he's played basketball for a couple of years (in Finland). Some of the guys showed me some film of him from Facebook, and it looks like he can shoot, handle the ball and pass.
"I can see a high-low offense that could work with him and David Simula."
Simula, a 5-8 junior shooting guard, is the team's designated outside shooter.
"And he's probably our No. 1 player on defense," Radcliffe said. "He'll get the toughest assignments."
Antilla, a 5-7 sophomore, is projected for point guard.
"Between him and David, they can pass the ball and set up the other," the coach said, adding that Antilla is also the "second or third top defender."
Koski, a 5-11 sophomore, looks to be the Hawks' power forward and their top rebounder.
"He's pretty strong with the ball under the basket," Radcliffe said.
The fifth starting spot is between sophomore guard/forwards Kangas and Cody Carlson.
"They're going to be great defenders," the coach said, "and they can make outside shots."
Between the two, the 5-11 Kangas is a better ball handler while Carlson at 5-10 is more aggressive.
First off the bench may be R-M third-year player Jon Tapio, a 6-2 junior forward.
"He's a strong boy and a strong rebounder," Radcliffe said. "He can put any garbage under the basket back up."
There's also 5-5 freshman Halen Carello and 5-4 sophomore Jordan Burton, both called "scrappy little guards who aren't afraid to go up against anyone," Radcliffe said, and 5-6 sophomore Chandler Nault, who is "quicker than all get out" and a strong defender.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.