Negaunee Miners boys do best to replace 2 all-staters
All times Eastern
Dec. 5 — Escanaba, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 — Calumet, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 15 — Menominee, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 19 — at Gwinn, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22 — Marquette, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28 — Manistique, 6 p.m.
Jan. 2 — at Houghton, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 4 — at Escanaba, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 — Ishpeming, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12 — at Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 — at Gladstone, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 23 — Iron Mountain, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26 — at Manistique, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 — Gwinn, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 — Westwood, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 9 — at Ishpeming, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 13 — Gladstone, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 — at Marquette, 7:20 p.m.
Feb. 21 — at Westwood, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 27 — at Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee High School boys basketball team had a successful 2016-17 season, no matter how you measure the wins and losses.
The Miners posted a 20-5 record, won a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference championship and captured Class C district and regional tournament championships.
Now Negaunee may have to rebuild. After losing several key seniors, head coach Dan Waterman will have a young roster to work with.
In a season that ended with a heartbreaking 51-49 overtime loss to Manton in a Class C quarterfinal game, the Miners had all-state players Dre Tuominen and Trent Bell, along with fellow seniors Mark Anderson, Brock Aho, Trevor Uren and Darius Provost creating a deep and quality roster.
Now that those seniors have moved on, Waterman has a roster that includes four sophomores, five juniors and five seniors.
“We’ve got a young team with four sophomores,” the coach said. “I think our seniors are doing a great job of leading and setting an example, and overall I like the energy and effort that they’re giving.”
Waterman added that replacing two all-staters like Tuominen and Bell will be a difficult task.
“Those guys are going to be hard to replace and you can’t do it with any one guy,” he said. “What we’re going to try and see if we can do this year is collectively replace what we lost with those two.
“It’s going to be difficult because of our inexperience and our lack of size. It’s something that we’re going to have to find ways to overcome.”
Despite the inexperience, Waterman said his overall goals remain the same.
“The goals don’t change for us either,” he said. “We expect to be very good and we know it’s going to take a lot of work. We’re just early in that process right now.”
The seniors who do return include forwards Luke Mattson, Travis Nelson and Jake Hill; and guards Luke Skewis and Jacob Ennett.
Ennett is one of only two starters that return from last season, the other being sophomore guard Jason Waterman.
“Jason (Waterman) started all 25 games last year and is a tremendous shooter,” Waterman said. “It’s going to be a little different for him this year because instead of being the new guy on everybody’s scouting report, he’s probably going to be at the very top, so we’re looking for him to score for us.
“Jacob (Ennett) stepped in for an injured starter last year and did a whale of a job. He’s another very good shooter and provides that leadership for us.”
While Mattson isn’t necessarily a newcomer, he sat all last season with an injury and Waterman hopes he can contribute.
“He’s a good basketball player and he’s played a lot of basketball,” he said. “He’s going to have to score a lot for us.”
The other top newcomer Waterman referred to is sophomore point guard Jakson Sager.
“We’re going to have to lean on him and that is a tough job,” Waterman said. “He’s kind of the conductor out there who’s got to get guys in the right place. He’s really skilled. He can shoot the ball, pass the ball and he’s really smart.”
Asked about the biggest threat in the M-PC, Waterman said the conference will be difficult in general but also put his focus on three teams.
“Our league is going to be strong this year,” he said. “Gladstone is the new team in the league and they may have the two best players in the league in Reece Castor and Brad Spindler. Iron Mountain lost (Carson) Wonders and picked up another Wonders. They have everyone back and they’re going to be really good. Ishpeming is experienced, long and athletic. I think those three teams are going to be really tough.”
Asked if the Miners could make a run at the conference, Waterman again indicated that would be a tall task.
“The thing I think about this team is that we’ll get progressively better as the season goes and as we get more games under our belt, because they’re willing to work hard and because they’re smart kids,” he said. “I think as long as you work hard, you can’t help but get better. To lose two all-staters and say there’s not going to be a drop-off is probably a little bit unrealistic.”
But that’s not a concession, just an observation. While Waterman wants to be realistic, he’s also 100 percent committed to leading his team to a successful season.
“I don’t consider us an underdog, but by the end of the year we’re going to be very competitive with any team that we play,” the coach said.
Negaunee opens the season at home against Escanaba on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
Email Ryan Spitza at email@example.com.