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Ready to get on a roll: Marquette boys encounter similar obstacles as fellow teams in pandemic

From left, Gladstone’s Hunter Potier fouls Marquette’s Ty Lotterman on his drive to the basket as the Redmen’s Justin Jurmu is also in on the play during the second quarter of their high school basketball game held at the Barb Crill Gymnasium in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Editor’s note: With the start-and-stop of winter sports seasons this year, The Mining Journal is publishing high school basketball team previews from Marquette and Alger counties over a number of days. This story was written two weeks ago.

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MARQUETTE — The Marquette boys basketball team’s season ended much sooner than the Redmen expected and it was through no fault of their own.

After taking down Petoskey and Gaylord in MHSAA district tournament play, MSHS were about to take on Traverse City Central for the district title when the season ground to a halt because of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Redmen put all that behind them though, and Feb. 9, Marquette head coach Brad Nelson talked about what his team has in store for fans the next couple of months, including the return of All-Upper Peninsula Dream Teamer Kam Karp.

Marquette's Justin Jurmu, center, loses control of the ball as it hits Gladstone's Lucas Hughes in the face during the first quarter of their high school basketball game held at the Barb Crill Gymnasium in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“Last year, we weren’t really sure what kind of team we were going to have because we were so young and everybody graduated from the year before,” he said. “But this year, looking forward, we kind of have a pretty good idea of who we have, with a majority of our scoring coming back.

“But the one thing that we’re going to miss is the presence of Drew Wyble on the defensive end and John Thomson’s energy on both ends of the court. So we’re trying to figure out how to replace that defensive presence for this year.

“Obviously, Kam, in my opinion, is the best point guard in the U.P. and one of the best I would think in the state of Michigan. So a lot of the stuff that we do is going to go through him. I mean, that’s a no-brainer, but the ‘MO’ of our basketball program has been ‘spread the wealth’ and we’ve got five guys on the court that can score, that are capable of going out for 20 (points). It’s just a matter of what the defense is giving us and what we can take advantage of.

“So I don’t want to go into every game saying Kam’s got to shoot the ball 20 times in order to win, because that’s not the case. If we spread the ball and move the ball, everybody is going to have an opportunity to get into the scoring column. Assists are a bigger thing for us than anything else.”

It’s been a difficult offseason for Marquette, as it has been for most teams around the state, but Nelson said his squad is making the best of it.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The kids are frustrated, especially in the last three weeks with it seems like the target changed every day. It obviously changed the competitiveness in practice and coaches from all over, not only myself, had to get creative in trying to make practices interesting for the kids when they couldn’t compete against each other.

“So that part was hard, but these first few days knocking the rust off, it’s been a year since some of these guys played organized basketball. So it’s going to be, in my opinion, probably an uglier start to the season than (is) typical, but we’re going to have to pick it up quick.

“It starts off with Escanaba, (which is) a very talented team. So it’ll be a good test for us early, but as far as the practice goes, everybody’s in the same boat. So it’s no advantage for any team over the other.”

Also right now, Nelson said the Redmen are taking what they can get this year and ultimately, they’re just happy they can get back to doing what they enjoy doing — that’s winning games.

“The season ended short for them last year and spring sports being canceled,” he said. “It’s a different year, it’s a different situation, but we’re just happy to be able to get this season in.

“We ended up with 13 games on our schedule plus the districts. So that’s about as good as we could get. Limited travel, we’re not allowed to go into Wisconsin and things like that. So picking up games was kind of a challenge, but if we get 13 games in before the tournament, that’s a success.”

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

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