J urgen Kleiman picked one heck of a time to make his presence known.
All season the senior has been quietly doing his job on the defensive end. But on Thursday, in the state semifinals, Kleiman made some noise.
With 4:21 left in regulation, Iron Mountain was locked in a battle with Schoolcraft. Down one point, the teams had been trading buckets, and after Ricky Brown nailed a 3-pointer, it was Schoolcraft’s turn.
But Kleiman had other ideas.
Schoolcraft’s 6-7 Ty Rykse drove to the hoop and pulled up for what he thought would be a lead-taking jumper. But Kleiman met him at the hoop. He raised his hands and recorded a block that captivated the entire Breslin Center.
It was the kind of block that you can hear the smack of hand hitting ball. It sailed through the air and into the hands of Brown, who corralled the rebound.
Meanwhile, the Iron Mountain faithful let out some of the loudest cheers of the day.
Then, a minute and a half later, Kleiman did it again.
This time, Foster Wonders had hit a 3-pointer to give his team the lead, and Schoolcraft’s Tyler DeGroote drove at Kleiman for a layup.
“That was awesome. He’s a physical kid, but those guys are big,” coach Bucky Johnson said. “And he sent those things out with authority. Like, ‘Get out of here.’ ”
The 6-4 senior’s Herculean blocks were key for Iron Mountain’s momentum, and eventual 54-50 win in overtime.
But for Kleiman, he was simply helping out a friend in need.
“I didn’t want to leave my guy, but I knew my buddy, Foster, needed help,” Kleiman said. “I slid over and got the block and turnover, so that was great.”
It was a whole other side of Kleiman that the Mountaineers hadn’t really seen yet this season.
He blocks shots from time to time, especially in practice, but those don’t compare to Thursday. On Thursday he looked like the state’s premier shot blocker.
“We’ve seen him do it in practice, but not like that,” Wonders said. “Those were some emphatic blocks, and on bigger guys, too. I mean, that was all heart. He just plays so hard all of the time. I’m really proud of his effort because he was huge.”
Kleiman also contributed six points in the win, with two of his baskets coming once again, in the biggest of moments.
With 1:14 on the clock in regulation, Schoolcraft was breathing down the neck of Iron Mountain by creating chaos in the backcourt with a press defense.
Iron Mountain was up two points when Bryce Pietrantonio caught the ball in the paint. He was swarmed by multiple defenders, but the senior remained poised. Kleiman cut backdoor and Pietrantonio found him for an easy bucket.
It helped to hold off a charging Schoolcraft squad that would end up forcing overtime.
Pietrantonio and Kleiman showed off their signature play once more, this time, to open overtime. It set the tone for the Mountaineers.
“We saw that in practice and talked about how it might be there,” Pietrantonio said of the high-low look. “And just as soon as I caught the ball, obviously I have two main options. I’m either throwing it down to him, or throwing it across the court for a wide-open 3. They played up on me and gave him a little bit more room to work.”
And work he did.
Against the biggest of teams and in the biggest of moments, Jurgen Kleiman had the biggest of plays.
There weren’t any dramatic speeches or movie-worthy pep talks. With a team of seven seniors, you don’t need flare. Just facts. And the fact was, if they didn’t change some things, the Mountaineers would lose. They would lose in the regional championship and their season would be over. That was enough. “When it sets in that this could be our...