ISHPEMING - Jeff Olson isn't sure if a late start to the Ishpeming boys basketball season will be more beneficial to his players or to him.
Either way, a successful state championship run in football has delayed the start of the Hematites basketball season by at least two weeks and maybe more.
"I wasn't ready to get going (this week)," he said after his football team finished playing football just on Saturday in Detroit. "Football's taken up all my mind, and I haven't even had a chance to think about basketball."
Ishpeming’s Bobby Zhulkie goes up for a layup during the third quarter against Munising at Ishpeming High School on Thursday, Feb. 21. (Journal file photo)
The team will hold tryouts and begin practices on Monday, the day everybody else gets the green light to start playing games for real.
Understandably, then, the first-year head basketball coach could only be vague earlier this week about how he expects the Hematites to perform on the basketball court.
"We'll have some familiar faces back from last year," Olson said, ticking off a list of seniors who were all key during the football season, including Alex Briones, Bobby Zhulkie, Tyrus Millimaki, Derek DeCaire and Mitch Laurin.
Dec. 10 - at Gladstone (ppd.)
Dec. 13 - Westwood (ppd.)
Dec. 16 - at Norway (ppd.)
Dec. 18 - at Gwinn (ppd.)
Jan. 3 - at L'Anse, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 8 - at Negaunee, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 - at Westwood, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 - at Marquette, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 16 - Gwinn, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 21 - Gladstone, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 24 - at Kingsford, 8 p.m.
Jan. 28 - Houghton, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 31 - at Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 5 - at Manistique, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 - Negaunee, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 11 - Marquette, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 14 - Manistique, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 17 - Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 25 - West Iron County, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 27 - Norway, 7:45 p.m.
"And we should have (senior) Noah Olgren. He wasn't on the basketball team last year."
With a state championship run in 2012, too, last year's team under former coach John Tiziani got off to a slow start, only getting in one game in December and still having half its schedule left to play by the start of February.
What hurt those Hematites just as much was the absence of Briones, who even as a sophomore was under consideration as Player of the Year in the Mid-Peninsula Conference.
Briones fractured a bone in his foot during the 2012 football season and was able to finish the playoff run to a state championship, then missed the first two months of basketball as a precaution in the healing process.
This year, he's relatively healthy - as much as a full-time starting football player can expect to be at the end of a long season.
"The kids have still been competing, so that's a positive," Olson said about a basketball lineup almost entirely composed of football players. "But football legs are different than basketball legs, and that's why we postponed everything before Christmas.
"We'll just be playing three games (a week) straight through February."
Briones is a 6-foot-2 forward who really can play just about any position on the court. That doesn't even take into consideration his 19.4-points-per-game average he had as a sophomore when he made the All-Upper Peninsula Class ABC Second Team.
At 5-7, Millimaki is being penciled in at point guard, where the 5-10 Zhulkie will also see time.
DeCaire and Laurin, each at 6-feet, look like good bets at forward while the 5-8 Olgren may split time in multiple positions.
"All our kids are pretty versatile," Olson said about their probable positions. "Basketball is a different animal than football, but the key is still getting the kids to work hard and putting in some semblance of structure."
Olson is intrigued with 6-5 sophomore Ozzy Corp, who will be coming up from the JV and has a real possibility of breaking into the starting lineup.
Other juniors he mentioned as possibilities are 6-foot Ozzie Hakkarinen, 5-9 Dan Thornton and 5-7 Dominic Suardini.
"All of them went to (basketball) team camp this summer," Olson said. "We may also have one or two others, but we'll see how things turn out next week."