The 2020-21 All-UP Girls Basketball Teams as chosen by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. The UPSSA met on April 14 in Marquette to select the teams and individual awards.
A s a kid, I always looked up to the top players in the UP.
Jason Whitens and Dawson Bilski from North Central, my brother, Carson, and Negaunee’s Trent Bell and Tyler Jandron. Those were the guys I looked up to, and I wanted to continue their tradition of top basketball talent in the UP and raise the bar if I could.
During my sophomore season as we made our run to the state finals, I noticed we started to get more attention from the UP. That interest around our program and myself continued to grow into the next year as more Division I offers rolled in. People started asking me where I was going to go, and when I was going to decide. I had always wanted to be one of the top guys people paid attention to and to finally achieve that was a great feeling.
Recruiting has been a crazy process; I don’t know if I expected 14 offers, but you honestly just keep working and hope that it pays off. It’s a credit to the blue-collar Yooper mentality that has been ingrained into my work ethic throughout this process. People downstate who know Yoopers tend to have a certain level of respect for them. We’re known to play tough and with a sense of pride. It’s what I wanted to bring to the school I chose.
That’s why I have decided to commit to Floorburn U, aka Southern Illinois University.
The Salukis are known to get into the face of their opponents and to play physical and hard all the time. They’re a scrappy team, and the fans love it.
It hit home for me, and everything about the community reminded me of home. That was huge for me.
Before I visited the campus last fall, I talked to a couple of guys I played with at basketball camps, and they all praised Southern Illinois’ location and its facilities. True to form, my mom and I were wowed during our visit. The campus is really nice and everything is set up really close to each other and not spread out, so I really like everything about the university.
Then there are the basketball facilities.
Their gym is closer to a high major basketball arena, holding over 8,000 people and filling up regularly for conference games. It’s just a crazy atmosphere. I watched all their games on ESPN, including one at home against Loyola Chicago when the stands were packed. Then, there was a buzzer-beater against Missouri State when everyone stormed the court. I just remember the crowd going crazy.
Getting to this point has been eye-opening; it’s something I always dreamed of as a kid. Being able to get opportunities like this and talk to a lot of schools at a high level has been really rewarding. I definitely enjoyed getting to see a lot of great schools and meeting a lot of great people, but now that I’m committed, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Everything is set in stone.
When I got the feeling that I wanted to commit, I realized it was close to my dad’s birthday, so I figured I’d announce my decision on his birthday as a way to honor him. He’s always been the one in the gym the most who rebounds for me and runs me through workouts. It’s always been me and him in the gym, so it was special to announce it on his birthday because he’s put in a lot of work — just like I have. He’s invested a lot of time into making me better, so for me, there’s no better way to thank him.
This basketball journey has taught me so many things. From the first offer from Northern Michigan when I was in the eighth grade, to overcoming a preseason injury my freshman season, to our state final run. Plus, a global pandemic. There hasn’t been a shortage of interesting events throughout.
All of it has taught me so many things. You just have to enjoy all the highs and the lows. You just have to take them for what they are. Sometimes I sit back and think about how I never expected all of this to happen — good and bad. But most of it was good; I can’t complain about anything. My teammates and I always talk about how we wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Obviously, maybe winning the state title, but we had so much fun together throughout the run that it made it all worth it.
It’s cool to have my college choice finally figured out. Now, I can focus on getting better for my senior year at Iron Mountain and hopefully leave a legacy there as a winner and a great teammate, as well. I want to be remembered as someone who always gives 100 percent every night.
Hopefully, we get back to the state title game. That’s obviously the goal, and we know we have a lot of work to do with four new starters, but we’re going to grind away at it and see what happens.
Jurgen 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.
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...