Basketball preview: Predicting the Ski Valley boys season
GAYLORD — The 2020-21 Michigan high school basketball season might be on hold due to COVID-19, but winter sports are still scheduled to commence.
Last year’s Ski Valley Conference-title race came down to a fierce battle between Pellston and Gaylord St. Mary, which ended in a draw. Sharing the crown marked the Snowbirds’ first conference title in 18 years.
The Snowbirds then marched into the postseason hopeful of a long postseason run, but the tournament was cancelled during districts as COVID-19 devastated the globe.
Now, the start of the 2020-21 season hangs in the balance as a second COVID-19 wave has spiked across Michigan. But the hope of high school basketball remains. Should the players be allowed to take the court, expect another spirited competition for the Ski Valley title.
Here is a prediction of what to expect from the 2020-21 Ski Valley boys basketball season:
Every year, entering a new season, there are a shortlist of teams expected to contend for prominence. A plethora of factors make up these predictions — returning players, incoming freshmen, other teams losing key players and overall program success.
With that being said, here are a couple of teams seemingly at the forefront of the upcoming title race:
Mancelona — Heading into the season, Mancelona has to be considered not only a Ski Valley Conference contender, but also a squad capable of a potentially deep tournament run.
Led by 6-foot-3 senior Jayden Alfred, an athletic wing who excels at getting to the basket where he often finishes with an emphatic dunk and can also step out and hit 3-pointers, this team should be very deep. Alfred could emerge as one of the most explosive players in the state this season.
The Ironmen also return a capable supporting cast. Adam Ackler and Justin Ackler provide athleticism, while a host of senior guards should add stability to their offense. Mancelona might be able to physically bully its way to a conference title this season. But they are also highly skilled.
Johannesburg-Lewiston — Watch out for the Cardinals. After enjoying an unprecedented fall, where the football, volleyball and both cross-country teams won their respective conferences, the Cardinals proved this is obviously a school filled with talented athletes.
The front-court took a hit with the loss of Matthew Davidson, Joey Chrencik and Gavin Weaver, but Jason Richter and Hayden Claeys look poised to step up in their place. The Cardinals also had a number of athletic forwards on JV last season, hoping to find a place in the rotation.
J-L’s back-court endured an injury-riddled season last winter, as Carlos Gascho went down with a torn ACL, and Sheldon Huff also injured his knee. In their absence, Preston Marlatt stepped up as a premier outside-shooting threat while directing the offense.
The Gascho-Marlatt-Huff back-court trio should help propel the Cardinals into conference contention even if the front-court takes time to figure things out. Overall size, depth and talent makes this Cardinals team one to watch this winter.
Gaylord St. Mary — Despite suffering substantial loses from last year’s co-championship season, the Snowbirds should have enough athleticism and carry over to make some noise again this winter.
Steven Koscielniak, Drew Koenig, Brady Hunter, Alex Pudvan, Alex Powers and Colton Inglis have all graduated, but the Snowbirds have a host of exciting players ready to step up in their place.
Sophomore Brody Jeffers and seniors Conrad Korte and Dom Keister will likely step into the starting lineup, while JV standouts Gavin Bebble and Daniel Smith might join them.
Korte, a 6-foot-4 forward who can leap with almost anyone in the conference, displayed a nice mid-range jump shot last season. Keister and Jeffers offer athleticism and outside shooting on the wings, while Bebble and Smith could split point guard duties and can also hit from beyond the arc.
The Snowbirds might not have as much depth as last season, but this team has the athleticism to hang with almost anyone in the conference.
Inland Lakes — After a successful football season, Inland Lakes proved it has the athletes to also win some games on the basketball court. After hovering around .500 last season, Inland Lakes could make a big jump this winter.
Onaway — Speaking of big jumps, Onaway had a young squad last season that struggled against more physical opponents. But the Cardinals return some intriguing players who could make a big leap and help them vastly improve on last season’s 6-16 record.
Projected Ski Valley Conference finish:
3. Gaylord St. Mary
4. Inland Lakes
6. Central Lake
7. Forest Area
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