T here is a feeling of optimism surrounding the Lake Linden-Hubbell boys basketball team. That may be surprising, considering the Lakes are coming off their worst season since 2010-11.
“We didn’t have success last year, and that’s my concern,” head coach Jack Kumpula said. “We need to get started fast and get things going on and put last year behind us.”
The optimism, in part, can be credited to last season’s failures. The Lakes started four sophomores and one junior, but found themselves competitive in several games. The added experience will help the Lakes to improve on a disappointing 4-17 record; especially since the conference has seen a lot of graduated talent.
“The future is almost here,” Kumpula said. “Next year will obviously be a little better, but this is a big year for us.”
The core group of returning players has seen their share of success. The junior group, led by Carter Crouch, Cole Gregoire, Caleb Gregoire, and Jessie Hill have been playing together since they were kids, with the exception of one year when Crouch played on the varsity team as a freshman. Ben Wilson, a senior, transferred into the district as an eighth grader, and has assimilated into the close-knit group rather seamlessly. This group won 15 games on the junior varsity, so the potential is there. Taking the next step, however, will prove crucial to just how successful the Lakes are this season.
“It’s about how much extra time we put in,” Crouch said. “[Other teams] are doing the same things, but it is about our open gyms and our shooting drills that we do outside of practice that makes the difference.”
On a typical summer morning, you could find the four juniors and one senior in the gym, along with some JV and junior high players. They ran through dribbling and shooting drills and finished with pickup games every day. Most players were there for every one of those days, preparing for the upcoming season well beforehand. The time to perform is here, and it is clear that this group is poised to make some big strides.
“We have to adjust quickly and learn to play together,” Kumpula said. “We need to finish the deal and get some wins.”
Crouch and Wilson have assumed the roles of leaders on the team, with both of them taking vocal roles at practice. They can both be heard giving their teammates instructions and criticisms during practice, and it is evident that the team respects their roles.
“The leadership role was thrown at me last year, and I had to either pick it up or let this team go,” Crouch said. “It wasn’t a choice that I made, it was a more of a ‘you have to lead this team’ type of mentality.”
Leadership will be a key factor on a team that battled issues with communication early on this year. Kumpula has emphasized the importance of communicating with teammates both during practice and in game situations.
“The line between five wins and fifteen wins is a fine one,” he said to the team. “If you do not communicate, we will win five. If you talk to each other and show leadership, you are capable of fifteen.”
A 10-win improvement from year to year sounds like a bold prediction, but Kumpula sees it as a real possibility.
“The conference is pretty even outside of Chassell this year,” he said. “Chassell has a lot coming back, but everyone else is going to be pretty even.”
It would appear to be a perfect storm in Lake Linden this year; an experienced team with a lot of talent, in a conference that has lost a lot of great players to graduation.
Whether or not the Lakes can bring it together will be key. However, Crouch and company feel like they have as good of a shot as anyone.
“It could be one team one week, and one team the next week,” Crouch said. “One team can fall apart at any time, but it’s too early to tell where we will be.”