Moving on up: Gwinn Modeltowners’ boys in 2nd year under coach Jim Finkbeiner

Gwinn’s Austin Forbes, right front, leaps to make a shot against Munising on Dec. 6 in a game played at Gwinn High School. (Journal file photo by Rachel Oakley)

GWINN — It’s not always easy for a coach to take control of a program, but that’s what Jim Finkbeiner had to do at Gwinn High School last season.

And despite some bumps in the road, he thought it went pretty well.

“Last year being that first year with the program, you have to set a tone and talk about what your identity is going to be,” he said. “What standards are we going to hold ourselves to? When someone looks at us, what are we going to be about?

“That’s kind of what last year was, an opportunity to set the program we want. In the first year of your program, you’re going to have some hiccups, some bumps and some tough times.

“We always want to win more games, but I tell the kids all the time that your success isn’t defined by how many games you win. You can always play for other things and those seniors last year that stuck it out for the whole year did fight hard and tried to leave something here for the kids to build off of here.

“That means not just the juniors or the kids that are coming up. It’s the JV teams and our sophomores.

“I love the game and the kids did what I asked. I think we got off to a slow start, but now we got things going the way we want.”

Finkbeiner only has three returning players from last season and expects each to take leadership responsibilities. One is center Tucker Taylor, who gives Gwinn a force in the paint.

“Tucker plays bigger than he is,” Finkbeiner said. “He’s somewhere in that 6-foot-3 range, but he is a kid that is in such good physical shape that he brings a presence to the game.

“He’s been around the game and he really understands how the game is played. He can be physical on both ends of the floor.”

Another key for the Modeltowners is guard Austin Forbes, who will run the offense from the point. Finkbeiner says he has a knack for spotting the open guy on the court.

“Austin also has a presence on the floor,” Finkbeiner said. “Austin has just an uncanny sense. He’s one of those guys that you hope to have or can build on.

“He can just find guys open that the coaches on the sideline are like, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t see that guy.’

“He’s just a kid who works harder than anybody, first one to the gym and last one to leave.

“We like the ball in his hands and we’re continuing to develop him, but it’s about making good decisions and getting the ball to guys when they’re open. That’s what he does for us.”

The final member of the Gwinn trio is senior Isaiah Guevara, who Fink-beiner says has improved and hopes will emerge this season.

“Isaiah is a kid who up to this point has been a role player,” Finkbeiner said.

“The difference I’ve seen in him from the end of the last year is that he has a renewed sense, that he really wants to have a good senior year.

“He’s put the time and effort (in) over the summer and he’s been working on his shot.”

When it comes to the always competitive Mid-Peninsula Conference, Finkbeiner says that this year is up for grabs and that there aren’t any easy games on the Modeltowners’ schedule.

“With the M-PC, it seems like every year there’s that one team that is at that very top level,” he said. “I think this year it could be more competitive than it’s ever been. There’s not a team in this conference where if you don’t show up, you’re going to get beat. When we got into a conference game, if you don’t come to play, you’re going to get beat by any of these teams.

“The good thing about that is that it teaches our kids that you have to come mentally ready to play, whether it’s at home or on the road. If not, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot because these guys are ready.

“These are some of the best teams in the U.P. I love playing in this conference because that’s only going to make our program better and it’s going to make our team better.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is