O ntonagon has a rich history of boys basketball players, especially players of great size and strength. Growing up in the Copper Country, you are bound to hear stories about the incredible size that the teams from Ontonagon invariably had year to year — kids who were just bigger and stronger than everyone else. This season, after graduating six seniors, the Gladiators have a new big man taking charge in place of the graduated Tanner Balcomb and James Domitrovich. And his name may sound familiar to long time Copper Country basketball fans.
Eddy Polakowski is hard to miss. Standing at about 6-5, he physically towers over his teammates, and often his opponents. His size should come as no surprise, at least not to anyone who has been around the Copper Country for a while. His father, Ed, was a standout for the Gladiators in the mid-80’s, once holding the school record for points in a game, with 42. With Ed playing predominantly in the post at a such a high level, it would be a foregone conclusion that his son Eddy would have all of the genetic tools to be a successful big in high school basketball. While the basketball talent may have always been there, Eddy was not always the biggest kid on the floor.
“Its funny, because every kid in the class was the same size as him,” Ontonagon head coach Andy Borseth said. “I told him, on your first day, you could barely walk and chew gum.”
Eventually, that growth spurt hit. And when it did, he was presented a choice. He could either let his size be good enough, like many kids have done, or he could put in the work to become the player that he had the potential to be. He did the latter and is reaping the benefits coming into his senior year.
“In the summer, I have been going into the weight room, going into the gym, trying to improve my athleticism,” Polakowski said.
His athleticism is not something that necessarily needed fixing in the first place. Last year, in a district tournament game, his team was having issues with Jeffers guard Brett Hill. Hill had scored 18 points against the Gladiators, with no adjustments amounting to much of anything. The answer came when Borseth put Polakowski on Hill, resulting in no additional points from Hill, and a Gladiator victory. Rarely can a player of that size play well defending the perimeter, let alone shut down the opponent’s best player. Polakowski showed something that night, a flash of what he is truly capable of.
Polakowski’s athleticism draws much praise from Borseth.
“He might be a better outside player than inside,” he said. “He is the best when he catches it on the wing with a little momentum going towards the basket. You just can’t stop him. He’s just so big and so strong, you get stuck on his hip and it’s over.”
The outside aspect of Polakowski’s game has been a point of emphasis for him, especially in the last couple of years. He has spent countless hours working to make himself multi-dimensional, trying to become as difficult to guard as possible.
“My ball handling has improved from my freshman year to now,” he said. “I feel like that makes it harder to guard me. I have been shooting a lot more, trying to make people respect my jump shot more, which clears up the floor a little more for everyone else.”
With a strong arsenal of post moves to match his drives to the lane, Polakowski brings a challenge to any team that wants to defend him.
“He can get to that point where you catch him, and he will throw a spin move on you, finish with the left hand, it’s just hard to stop,” Borseth said.
There is no denying the impact that having Polakowski on the floor brings for the Gladiators. But that is only half of what makes him so valuable to his team. Borseth raved about the leadership role that Polakowski has taken on for his senior season, especially after having coached him for many years.
“I have never in the six years that I have been coaching him, seen a kid that is as kind, who always worries about everyone else ahead of himself. He’s just not selfish.”
The leadership role is new to Polakowski, as he sat behind a crew of six seniors in the past season. Out of respect for his older teammates, he took a back seat to allow his teammates to lead him. Not this year, however.
“It was their year, I let them have it, because it is just a tradition to let the seniors take on that role,” he said. “This year, I have decided to make it my team.”
Polakowski credits his father for helping him become the best he can be, both on the floor and off of it. It helps when he has had such a great example of basketball success to look up to.
“It has kind of been one of my goals to beat his [single game scoring record]. He played pretty much only post, because our school was so big back then, and he said that my game has improved way beyond his. Whenever he sees something, he will always critique me on it.”
It seems like the list of critiques is getting shorter by the year. A smooth post game, the ability to drive to the basket and defend the perimeter, while above all being a good teammate and leader. Polakowski has everything that you could want in a high school basketball player, best summed up in the words of his coach.
“He’s a pretty darn good kid.”