NEGAUNEE – The Negaunee Miners may not tip off their basketball season for another month or so, but the school will be hosting some hoops tonight.
Northern Michigan University and Finlandia University will do battle in an exhibition match at 7:30 p.m. in Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
“We’re really looking forward to coming down and we have a decent amount of kids who have probably played in the gym before,” Lions coach Mike O’Donnell said. “And to play a Division II opponent is exciting for our guys. I think to kick the season off with something different is great.”
NMU head coach Bill Sall had similar sentiments.
“I think it’s a great event and I think it’ll be a lot of fun,” he said. “I think there’s some high school players in the U.P. that will get the chance to play each other again in college. It’s a good venue to play in, too.”
Among the area players on these teams are former hometown player Eric Lori and Munising’s Nick Cercone for Finlandia, not to mention seven other Upper Peninsula players on the Lions roster.
Northern has Larry Burnette III and Vejas Grazulis of Marquette and two other “Yoopers.”
And of course, O’Donnell himself is a 1999 graduate of Negaunee High School and coached the Miners for nine years, compiling a 180-48 record and reaching the Class C state semifinals for his final three seasons.
The coaches said the discussions started a few months ago and both see the event as an opportunity to benefit their respective programs.
“I talked to Coach O’Donnell this summer and we have two exhibitions coming up against Michigan and Michigan State,” Sall said. “We really wanted an opportunity at some point to get in uniform and get a feel for it. Coach O’Donnell has some history working at the local high school and with (coach) Billy Hill playing on a state championship team (in Negaunee), we thought it’d be nice to bring it back.
“We’re also hoping it will generate a little more interest in men’s basketball on the western part of Marquette County. Negaunee High School has been fantastic to work with. They’ve really done a great job of organizing it and helping us out.”
O’Donnell thinks that the event will be a good measuring stick for where his team is at as the regular season approaches.
“We’re really in the beginning stages, so we’re looking at this as a good opportunity to see where we’re at two weeks in and see how we look against somebody else,” he said. “We can go out and get the film and see what we need to improve on.”
The Finlandia bench boss will also get the opportunity to not only gauge his team, but also reconnect with the people from the community.
“I am looking forward to that,” he said. “It’ll be fun to get back there in the gym and see some familiar faces.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.