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Negaunee has experienced boys in a strong high school basketball region

Iron Mountain’s Marcus Johnson, right, is fouled by Negaunee’s Drew Lindberg late in the fourth quarter with the Miners’ Jakson Sager looking on in their MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament game held at Marquette Senior High School on March 5. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Negaunee boys

2019-20 schedule

All times Eastern

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Dec. 10 — Escanaba, 7:15 p.m.

From left, Negaunee's Drew Lindberg, Iron Mountain's Tony Feira and the Miners' Jakson Sager vie for a rebound in the third quarter of their MHSAA Division 3 boys basketball regional tournament game held at Marquette Senior High School on March 5. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Dec. 12 — at Gwinn, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 19 — West Iron County, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 30 — Manistique, 6 p.m.

Jan. 3 — Marquette, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 9 — at Houghton, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 13 — at Calumet, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 15 — Ishpeming, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 20 — at Hancock, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 23 — at Gladstone, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 28 — Iron Mountain, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 31 — at Manistique, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 7 — Gwinn, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 12 — Westwood, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 14 — at Ishpeming, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 18 — Gladstone, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 20 — at Marquette, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 26 — at Westwood, 7:15 p.m.

March 3 — Calumet, 7:15 p.m.

March 5 — at Iron Mountain, 7:30 p.m.

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“We have eight seniors who have been through the grind before.” — Dan Waterman, head coach, Negaunee boys basketball

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NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee High School varsity boys basketball team is coming off of a district championship season as this year’s Miners may be the most experienced group head coach Dan Waterman has had.

NHS returns eight seniors from a team that went 15-8 and won an MHSAA Division 3 district title over Gwinn in the championship game in March.

Several of those players were either All-Upper Peninsula or All-Conference selections, with Jason Waterman even receiving an all-state honorable mention.

The team standing in its way last season was Iron Mountain, defeating the Miners 51-40 in a hard-fought regional semifinal, ending Negaunee’s season while the Mountaineers made a run to the state championship game before suffering their only loss of the season in a controversial ending to Pewamo-Westphalia.

Waterman and Co. are well aware that Iron Mountain will likely be the big road block for teams across the U.P. once again, but knows his players are up to the challenge.

“The energy and enthusiasm has been really good so far,” he said. “We have eight seniors who have been through the grind before, the leadership is there and that will take care of a lot of things and make my job easier.

“Practice so far has been about reviewing and starting over on our building blocks. Four of these kids have been around for more than one year, and the experience has been helpful early on.”

If you combine those four, Jason Waterman, Drew DuShane, Drew Lindberg and Jakson Sager, they carry 13 total years of varsity experience.

“This might be the most experienced team I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach with,” Coach Waterman said. “It’s Jason’s fourth year on varsity, and DuShane’s, Lindberg’s and Sager’s third year on varsity. We’ve got at least three of our leading scorers and 90 percent of our offensive production back.”

That quartet received an array of recognition last year, being named to several All-West PAC and All-Mid-Peninsula Conference lists, while Jason Waterman, Sager and Lindberg also received All-U.P. honors from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, with Waterman being named to the Division 1-3 First Team, Sager the Second Team, and Lindberg a Special Mention.

“We’re really optimistic about what we can be,” Coach Waterman said. “Every year, we kind of start over and go back to square one. Fundamentals are important in our program.

“On offense, it’s about ball movement, screening and taking good shots. Defensively, we want to remain fundamentally sound, which means not gambling for steals, keeping guys in front of us, and keeping the ball out of certain players’ hands. We have great leaders in this group and the kids are excited.”

Other senior returnees include Eric Anderson, Alex Munson, Chas Kumpula and Erik Salminen. Up from the junior varsity squad will be junior guard Will Luke.

“Will will be a point guard for us, and he also had a good football season and started both ways,” Coach Waterman said. “Chas Kumpula is 6-foot-2 and an athletic kid. He played off the bench for us last year.

“Alex Munson also had a good football season and played some big minutes for us last year as the sixth or seventh man. He’s kind of the jack of all trades for us. We expect big things from those three kids.”

The West PAC/M-PC schedule will be as challenging as it’s always been, along with a strong slate of Great Northern Conference teams in Escanaba, Marquette and Gladstone.

“It’s always going to be a challenging schedule,” Coach Waterman said. “Iron Mountain is going to be the big dog until somebody knocks them off. We’re not afraid of them, we know they’re good and we have a lot of respect for them.

“We played them tough three times last season and just couldn’t get over the hump. We’re hoping with another year of experience, we can catch them this season.

“Westwood is always a tough rivalry game, and Gwinn is also going to be pretty good once they figure out where their scoring will come from.

“Our nonconference schedule primarily consists of GNC teams. We have Marquette twice, Escanaba and Gladstone twice, which I guess you can consider both an M-PC and GNC team. We always like to challenge ourselves with our out-of-conference schedule and we’ll definitely have our hands full.”

Asked how far his experienced group can go, Waterman admitted it’s going to be a tough road, but doesn’t want to think too far ahead.

“I don’t want to write any checks prematurely,” he said. “Last year we finished behind Iron Mountain in the conference. We were able to win our district and run into (the Mountaineers) in the regional. The district will be as competitive as always with our ‘neighborhood’ teams in Ishpeming, Westwood and Gwinn. We’re part of a seven-team district this year, which I’ve never been a part of before, so just getting out of that will be a challenge.

“If we can get out of the districts, we’ll likely run into Iron Mountain in the regional again or whoever comes out of their district, but I’d say they’re the heavy favorite and that will be a tough matchup again.

“They’re coming off of a state runner-up season and return two of their biggest pieces in (Foster) Wonders and (Marcus) Johnson.

“If we can beat a team of Iron Mountain’s caliber, there’s no telling how far we can go. We’re excited, but we’re trying not to think too far down the road. We still have a lot of work to do and things to polish before thinking about things like that.

“The season is fresh, and we’re excited and happy to be back in the gym.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.