I f you listened to a podcast or have followed Eden and me long enough, you’re aware of how plenty of our conversations during a season revolve around high school basketball. Teams, players and storylines are regularly discussed, and for the most part, we tend to agree. But of course, there have been points of contention — moments where my stubbornness is met with her strong-willed attitude. This offseason, the prevailing debate between us has revolved around the final spot for the All-UP Boys Dream Team, which remains one of the intriguing elements in this week’s Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association All-UP selection meeting.
It’s hard to argue against the top four being locks, with three others as the leading candidates for the final spot. Here is a breakdown of each of those players.
27.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists
22.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists
You’re a paid subscriber for a website that covers high school sports, so you likely don’t need an introduction to Wonders or Johnson, or another reminder of their talents. Expect both of them to be unanimous locks for the Dream Team.
32.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks
Out of the players listed here, Simonsen may be the one that was seen the least by UPSSA voters. At the fall All-UP meeting, 17 of the 25 voters were from the Central UP — an area Houghton played just five of its games this season. But in addition to leading the UP in scoring, Simonsen had some of his best moments in the aforementioned road games where he could make his case as a premier player in the UP.
The one that gave him statewide attention came on Feb. 4 at Ishpeming. In the 88-83 loss, Simonsen recorded a school-record 63 points on an efficient 23 of 35 shooting from the field, including 7 of 13 from 3. He thwarted Ishpeming’s box-and-1 attempts with pull-up 3s from as far as 25 feet out and managed to utilize his size and athleticism to finish near the rim in what was an uptempo affair.
“In sports, you always hear it doesn’t mean anything without the win,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “But then you step back and look at the context of the game, and it’s quite an accomplishment. I pulled him aside at the end and told him I’m proud of him. It’s a testament to the work he puts in.”
It’s incredible to think of someone in the UP scoring 63 points in a single game. Hell, Houghton failed to score that many points in 13 of its games this season. But as awe-inspiring as the performance was, it was the Feb. 27 matchup at Iron Mountain that cemented Simonsen amongst the UP’s elite.
After covering him his freshman and sophomore seasons at the Daily Mining Gazette, I had the intuition he could put up big numbers given his work ethic and year-to-year development. But in Houghton, he rarely went up against the caliber of a player such as Iron Mountain’s Wonders; the February meeting presented a unique opportunity for Simonsen to showcase his skill set against the reigning UP Player of the Year.
Iron Mountain’s 91-63 win would live up to the hype of featuring three of the UP’s top scorers. Johnson scored 33 and Wonders added 31, but it was Simonsen’s 34 points that was the game-high mark. With Wonders serving as the primary defender for the majority of the contest, Simonsen converted on 13 of 24 shots and also added 10 rebounds. He knocked down deep 3s with a hand in his face, scored off midrange fadeaways and managed to consistently get to the rim. It was everything he did while facing double or triple teams against lesser competition, except this time, it was against one of the UP’s top teams.
15.5 points, 5 rebounds, 54 percent from 2, 44.2 percent from 3
He may not be as athletic as the rest of the guys on this list, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a player as fundamentally-sound, or efficient, as Jason Waterman.
Over a two-year span, he shot at one of the best clips I’ve seen. He made 50 percent from 3-point range as a junior before converting at a 44.2 percent mark this past season. The 54 percent conversion rate from inside the arc is a credit to the versatility he showed throughout the season. He scored in the post with hooks against smaller defenders, pull-up jumpers in the midrange area or managed to find openings and attack the rim. It was the perfect complement for the 3-point shooting he became known for throughout his four-year varsity career.
A Dream Team nod would be a fitting ascension for Waterman, who earned All-UP Second Team honors as a sophomore before being bumped up to a First Team selection last year. In a season where Negaunee established itself as one of the best teams in the UP, Waterman had his share of signature moments. He scored a career-high 31 points in a win over Gladstone and would add 20 points while shooting 8 of 14 from the field in a victory over Marquette that snapped a six-game losing streak to Negaunee’s rival. And in the game that may have been the best in the UP this season, Waterman scored 14 points as the Miners handed Iron Mountain its lone loss of the regular season, 52-51.
Those four are the players who I deem as locks for this year’s All-UP Dream Team. Here are the other three candidates (by alphabetical order) for the final spot.
25.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 51 percent from the field
Last year was the first time in at least 10 years a Division 4 player didn’t earn a Dream Team nod. That anomaly could extend another year if Janke isn’t selected this year. Numbers-wise, the 6-foot-5 forward’s resume stands up with anyone’s after averaging 25.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. And after Dollar Bay made two consecutive trips to the state semifinals, which Janke was a member of, there is no longer the lingering doubt across the UP about the Blue Bolts’ top players given their recent success. Better numbers and familiarity have given him the edge over Pickford’s Nic Edington (18.7 points, 17 rebounds) as the leading Division 4 candidate to earn Dream Team honors.
The one argument going against Janke is how Dollar Bay’s strength of schedule lacks in comparison to the other two candidates. Another deep postseason run to the semifinals could have offset this, but as it stands, Janke’s candidacy seems to be negatively impacted the most with the MHSAA suspending the postseason. There’s also the lack of aforementioned visibility with UPSSA voters and Copper Country players. Even a regional appearance would have given Janke two games in Negaunee and the chance to strengthen his claim in front of numerous Central UP voters.
17.8 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
No other team in the UP entered 2019-20 in a larger transitional phase than Marquette. The Redmen were coming off a 19-4 season that included a district title but had graduated their starting lineup and seven of their top scorers. And without the 6-10 Marius Grazulis in the lane, Marquette’s offense would be forced to undergo a change to adapt to its personnel.
Enter Kam Karp.
He may be the most dynamic guard in the UP due to his skill set and explosive athleticism. Regularly, he was able to penetrate defenses to get to the rim or set up his teammates on the perimeter. It wasn’t uncommon for Marquette to clear out and let him initiate the offense with him attacking the lane.
“If we didn’t have him as a point guard, we probably wouldn’t run the offense that we run,” Marquette coach Brad Nelson said. “The fact he can draw help kind of gets the offense going.”
The free-flowing style behind Karp led Marquette to a 19-3 record and GNC title. The Redmen were set to play for another district title before the MHSAA suspended the postseason ahead of the Redmen’s district final matchup with Traverse City Central, and it was thanks in large part to Karp.
Tied at 57 with Gaylord, Karp controlled the ball on the right wing as the final seconds wound down. With a defender up on him, he launched a deep 3 before the buzzer sounded; the ball looked to be off the mark, only for it to bounce off the glass and go in for the game-winning score. It was his second game-winning buzzer-beater of the year — on Jan. 4 he made a 3 from a similar spot to top Alpena 66-64.
My favorite stat for Karp’s case is what he accomplished in two games against Negaunee. In those two meetings, he averaged 25.5 points and 5.5 assists while making 21 of 29 shots. That’s right. In two games against one of the UP’s top defenses, he managed to shoot 72 percent from the field. Another impressive outing came in the 68-64 Feb. 13 win over Escanaba where Karp scored 27 points to secure Marquette’s GNC title.
13.6 points, 8 assists, 4.8 rebounds
Successfully running the numerous offensive sets in Dan Waterman’s offense should be enough for Sager to earn Dream Team honors. Joking aside, he’s the best playmaker in the UP, evidenced by his UP-high eight assists per game. But the one that will be remembered the most is the dish in transition to Alex Munson for the game-winning layup that propelled the Miners over Iron Mountain, 52-51, in the regular-season finale.
His other numbers won’t jump out at you, but that can be attributed to numerous factors. For one, Negaunee isn’t one to get out in an up-and-down contest. Methodical would be a proper way to describe its offensive approach. The players rarely force anything, if ever, and are comfortable running through their second, third and fourth options in a given offensive set. And if they can’t get anything, they’ll simply reset and run through them all again. Possessions can last well over 30 seconds and near a minute. Yes, the Miners do look to push in transition when given the opportunity, but their halfcourt offense is not the type of style that lends itself to any sort of stat-padding.
Still, you only have to look at the marquee games to see what Sager’s capable of. In the 79-73 overtime win over Marquette on Jan. 3, he posted 25 points and seven assists as he and Karp dueled in a back-and-forth point guard battle. Then, when the Miners topped Iron Mountain, Sager had a team-high 15 points and six assists. In the four games combined with Marquette and Iron Mountain, Sager averaged 17 points and 5.2 assists per game. Judging him off those numbers and watching him in each of those games where he managed to create and score against the best defenses in the UP, it’s easy to see why he’s a leading Dream Team candidate.
There are three parts to this:
So, the first two are actually the same, and that is Ashton Janke receiving the fifth Dream Team spot. Eden believes Janke’s versatility — he has the ability to play in the post and the perimeter — should give him the edge over the other candidates.
In order to get an even representation out of the UP, my belief is that the UPSSA will include Janke to give the Copper Country a Dream Team selection and include a Division 4 player. Dollar Bay has developed enough respect with the voters given their recent success that Janke will be able to overcome the lack of a deep postseason run. The voters will note Karp is a junior and go with the mindset “Well, he has next year to get Dream Team,” and vote Janke in favor of him. With Waterman seemingly a lock, and the Iron Mountain-Negaunee rivalry remaining unfinished, the UPSSA won’t find it within themselves to put two Miners up for Dream Team.
Who I’d vote for is a little bit of a different matter. I’d go with Sager. He has a high basketball IQ and facilitated an efficient offense against two of the best teams in the UP.
Truthfully, I’d have no issue with either of the three making it. All great kids with exceptional talents and they’re all deserving. But if none of them get the last spot, then it may be time to fire up an ol’ Twitter thread. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.
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This preview is the first of a three-part series previewing the All-UP Basketball selections. Up next, Eden will break down the potential All-UP Girls Dream Team before Bryce does the same for the Team of the Year and Coach of the Year awards.
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