NEGAUNEE - Expectations shouldn't be too high in Negaunee this season with the Miners boys basketball team, right?
Why would they?
Is it because Negaunee has won back-to-back MHSAA Class C district and regional titles? Or that last year featured a perfect season in the Mid-Peninsula Conference and 22-3 overall record?
Negaunee’s Brock Weaver blocks the shot of Westwood’s Andrew LeSage during a MHSAA playoff game at Westwood High School last season. Weaver, a 6-foot-6 center, should pose matchup problems for Mid-Peninsula Conference opponents again this season. (Journal file photo)
It couldn't be because a majority of last year's starting five is back. Or that among them is reigning M-PC Player of the Year Tyler Jandron.
Any one of those reasons could pique the interest not only of fans in Negaunee, but basketball junkies from all around the Upper Peninsula.
In reality, of course, the Miners have to be favorites to win the always-rugged M-PC as Jandron, the 5-foot-11 junior point guard, will have 6-2 senior swingman Tanner Uren and 6-6 senior center Brock Weaver among his returning weapons on offense.
Dec. 4 - At Escanaba, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 - Superior Central, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 11 - Kingsford, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 13 - At Marquette, 7:20 p.m.
Dec. 17 - Gwinn, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 27 - At Manistique, 6 p.m.
Jan. 3 - Escanaba, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 9 - Ishpeming, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 15 - At L'Anse, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 17 - Norway, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 22 - At Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 25 - Manistique, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 31 - At Gwinn, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 6 - At Westwood, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 8 - At Ishpeming, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 12 - At Gladstone, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 14 - Marquette, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 20 - Westwood, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 22 - At Norway, 8 p.m.
Feb. 26 - Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Not to mention 5-9 junior guard Eric Lori, a sensation in several games when he was called up from the JV, and either of two forwards vying for the team's fifth starting spot - 6-3 senior Andrew Katona and 6-5 junior Zane Radloff.
"I'm looking forward to the season," said Mike O'Donnell, who is 125-45 entering his eighth season as Miners head coach. "I like our overall balance, and we have a lot of faces with a lot of experience.
"We had a lot of participation in summer programs, and the quarterfinal experience two years in a row is something no other team can claim."
It all begins with Jandron, a surprise as the M-PC's top player only because he was a sophomore at the time.
"We put the ball in his hands, and this summer, he tried to take steps to take better care of the ball," O'Donnell said. "He worked at getting physically stronger."
Lori can play either guard spot, meaning the Miners shouldn't miss a beat when Jandron needs a rest.
"Traditionally, we like to have a lot of interchangeable parts on our team," the coach said.
And that's born out by the value of Uren, who can go to the hole or sink shots from well behind the 3-point line.
"He can create some big matchup problems," O'Donnell said.
Speaking of matchup nightmares, not many will be able to effectively cover Weaver, who moves well and can slip out to the short corner to shoot, but is still strong like a traditional center.
The Katona/Radloff switchoff adds just one more interchangeable piece to the Negaunee puzzle.
Katona, a small forward, is termed the more versatile and can move to a guard spot when called upon or stay in the post, while Radloff can use abundant athleticism, including quickness, and an uncanny sense of timing to block shots and nab rebounds like a true post player.
O'Donnell has another three seniors and four juniors to call upon. They are seniors Tony Zampese, a 5-10 small forward; Nick Martin, a 5-10 forward; and Nolan Bergstrom, a 6-3 center/forward.
The juniors are 5-7 guard Mike Hemmila, 5-10 guard Michael Anderson, 6-2 forward Dave Renaldi and 5-10 guard Kevin O'Keefe.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.