Analyzing the Boys Dream Team possibilities

11/25/2018 | Column | By Bryce Derouin

T he Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association will meet on March 27 to select the All-UP basketball teams. But why wait until then to start the Dream Team discussion?

There’s enough returning talent on the boys side that we can begin to project where certain players may end up, so let’s run through the possibilities.

But first, a couple things:

This isn’t necessarily how I would vote since there’s more that goes into All-UP selections than simply choosing the best players. For instance, Copper Country teams are usually at an inherent disadvantage, which we will get into more later. Along with my own evaluations of the players, I’m also taking into account the voting patterns from the UPSSA’s members.

I broke down a player’s Dream Team potential by different levels. There are the locks, the large school candidates and the Class D kids with a chance to get in. There’s also another category used that will be best explained below. 

OK, let’s get started. 

The locks

Barring injury or any other unforeseen circumstance, these are the players who should be locks to make the All-UP Dream team. They have the talent to build off impressive resumes from last season, and they have the benefit of playing in front of multiple UPSSA members. 

Marcus Johnson, Iron Mountain, Jr.

Averaged 22.9 points, 5 assists, 3.76 rebounds, 2.2 steals

He was the Class ABC Player of the Year in 2017-18 and a Dream Team selection. I mean, I really don’t have to go into any more detail why he’s essentially a lock to make it again. Let’s keep it moving.

Reece Castor, Gladstone, Sr.

Averaged 21.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists

Castor has made All-UP three years running but has yet to earn a Dream Team nod. This is the season he finally gets it. More may be asked of him with the extended absence of Rudy Peterson, who broke his leg during football season. It also means Castor could put up even bigger numbers while taking on more of the offensive responsibility for Gladstone. 

Marius Grazulis, Marquette, Sr.

Averaged 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks

With no major games happening in the Copper Country, Eden and I drove to Marquette to watch Escanaba take on the Redmen in a battle between two teams tied for the No. 2 ranking in the UP poll. Grazulis dominated, putting up 22 first-half points before finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 5 assists. It was one of the most impressive showings we saw all year, and his footwork in the post was some of the best I could remember from a kid his age. 

When it came time to discuss Grazulis at the All-UP meeting, the person nominating him didn’t put him up for Dream Team, which surprised Eden and me. I mentioned something, and another voter said, “Psh, no. He’s not Dream Team, he only averaged 14 points per game.”

Then, when the First Team selections came around, he was passed over once again.

The reliance on stats when voting for All-UP teams will always be present. It’s why in certain cases like Grazulis, an athlete who doesn’t put up monster numbers can be overlooked. Marquette has a balanced attack with plenty of athletic guards who can score, so there is never a need to force-feed Grazulis on offense. But if the Redmen did change their offensive philosophy to be post-dominant, Grazulis could potentially average 25 points a night, especially when you consider his ability to knock down 3s. He’s that good.

And even if you don’t believe my evaluation of his skill set, consider that virtually every team in the GLIAC wanted Grazulis before he committed to Grand Valley State. Sometimes, there needs to be exceptions to stat lines. 

Should probably be a lock but there are some caveats here

On talent and skill, this person would be a lock for the Dream Team, but there are some historic trends that don’t favor him.

Foster Wonders, Iron Mountain, Soph.

Averaged 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists

To my current knowledge, he’s the only boy in the UP with Division I offers. Wonders has received scholarship offers from UW-Milwaukee and Central Michigan, and he was offered by Northern Michigan as an eighth-grader. 

Last season he didn’t play until after Christmas break due to a stress fracture. He returned to average almost 20 a game for one of the best Class C teams in the state. Now he’s healthy and went through another offseason playing against premier AAU competition. 

But voting trends don’t bode well for sophomores.

In the last 10 years, only twice has a sophomore made the Boys Dream Team: Johnson last season, and North Central’s Jason Whitens in 2015. 

With Johnson being a lock this season, too, I looked back to the past 10 Dream Teams to see how many times two players from the same team made it. This happened only in 2017 when Negaunee’s Trent Bell and Dre Tuominen were selected along with North Central’s Dawson Bilski and Whitens. Interestingly enough, Foster’s brother Carson was the fifth person on that Dream Team. 

So no, sophomores and teammates typically do not make the Dream Team in the same season. But it’s also not a regular occurrence to see a Division I talent in the UP. This is why I think Wonders will buck the trend, especially if Iron Mountain makes another deep tournament run. 

(Shout out to Jason Juno of the Daily Globe for finding me the All-UP teams from 2008-13 since they are not online.)

The Large School candidates

These are the kids from Divisions 1-3 that will be in the Dream Team discussion.

Matt Ojala, Calumet, Sr.

Averaged 19.8 points, 7.4 assists, 3.3 steals

He may be the best playmaker in the UP, and his UP-high 7.4 assist per game average backs that assertion up. It also might not be a stretch to call him Calumet’s best player of all time. Ojala set the school’s single-season scoring record with 479 points last season and the assist record (169). He’s also just 127 points away from eclipsing Josh Cone’s career scoring mark of 1,098 to become Calumet’s all-time leading scorer. 

But history isn’t on Ojala’s side to make the Dream Team. Just seven kids from the Copper Country have earned the honor in the last 10 years, and that’s if you include the renowned basketball program of Ewen-Trout Creek, who had Jake Witt, Tony LaPlant, Jordan LaPlant and Dillon Gordon earn Dream Team honors. The other three were Chassell’s Joe Larson, Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Arthur Lyons and Dollar Bay’s Devin Schmitz. That means no large school in the Copper Country has had a Dream Team member in the last 10 years. 

Lyons earned his Dream Team honors in part because of his 28-point performance in the regional semis against eventual state champion North Central. Larson averaged 22.3 points per game but fell in the district finals, and Schmitz led Dollar Bay to a semifinal appearance. 

Part of the reason for Copper Country schools being overlooked is the lack of UPSSA voters from the area. At the 2018 All-UP football meeting, only the Daily Mining Gazette represented the CC. Compare that to the Marquette area which has seven voters, and eight if you include Ishpeming. There are five members from Iron Mountain area affiliates, while the east end of the UP is represented by four voters. Those sections of the UP dominate the voting pool. 

So, what will it take for Ojala to crack the top five?

Most likely, Calumet will need to either beat Iron Mountain in the districts, or he will have to put up impressive numbers when Calumet faces the Mountaineers. The first meeting is in Calumet on Dec. 7, and the two teams could potentially meet in the postseason. 

Tucker Taylor, Gwinn, Sr.

Averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds

Taylor may sport the best combination of size and athleticism in the UP. The 6-4 forward has the build of a college middle linebacker and will be one of the most explosive athletes this season. He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds, and spent the offseason expanding his skillset by improving his ballhandling and developing a short midrange jumper. 

Jason Waterman, Negaunee, Jr.

Averaged 17 points, 5.5 rebounds, shot 46 percent from 3

During an intrasquad scrimmage at practice, I saw him make five 3s in a row. He shot 46 percent from 3-point range last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him improve on that number. His coach and father, Dan, said he gets up around 500 shots a day. The only other player I’ve seen at the high school level who is better at getting their feet under them before elevating for a jumper was North Central’s Dawson Bilski.

Darius Yohe

Averaged 12 points, 8.3 rebounds

One opposing coach believes he’s a Division II talent. With the graduation of Hart Holmgren, Yohe could see his numbers rise as he gets more offensive looks.

Division 4 candidates

A Class D boy has made the Dream Team each of the last 10 years. Unless someone goes off for crazy numbers, the selection typically goes to the best player on the team that makes it the furthest during the postseason. With this being the first year in four that the competition in Class D is wide open, these are some of the players who could lead their teams deep. 

Tristan Masuga, Cedarville, Sr.

Averaged 16 points, shot 63 percent from the field

Key returner from a Cedarville squad that made it to the state quarterfinals last season. The Trojans could be No. 1 in the first UPSSA poll.

Marcus Harris, Brimley, Sr.

Averaged 16 points per game

Missed 16 games and returned from a torn ACL injury to average 16 points during Brimley’s run to the regional finals. As a freshman, he averaged 17 points and was the Eastern UP Defensive Player of the Year. 

Nick Edington, Pickford, Jr.

Averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds

He’s just one of two players returning to have averaged a double-double last season, and he has the potential to be the best Class D big in the UP.

Tyler Sundling, Rapid River, Jr.

Averaged 11.1 points

Flashed his talent as a freshman during Rapid River’s regional run. He scored 14 in a regional semifinal win against Ewen-Trout Creek before scoring 25 in a loss to eventual state champion North Central. With two years of experience leading Rapid River to district titles, this could be the year the Rockets break through.

Bryce Derouin

Bryce is a co-founder of Upbeat. He earned his journalism degree from Grand Valley State and served as the sports editor for three years at the Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton after working one year as a sports reporter at the Daily Press in Escanaba.