As others headed out to deer camp Nov. 14, Forest Park’s boys basketball team worked on drills in the late afternoon as they prepare for the start of the new season Dec. 3.
CRYSTAL FALLS—For once, football season at Forest Park this fall didn’t extend deep into November.
That was tough for the team, its players and fans, but the ill wind also blew some good—it is giving FP’s boys basketball team a boost going into the new season.
Reporting in from hunting camp—it was the start of the High Holy Days, after all—Coach Chris Nocerini reported his team has been working hard as they get ready for the Dec. 3 season opener against Mid Peninsula.
Retooling: Last year’s team went 8-13 overall, but after starting 4-10, they were 4-3 in the final third of the season. Unluckily, they drew Ewen-Trout Creek’s potent offense in the district semifinals and lost 94-59.
After that loss, Nocerini, JV Coach Dave Graff and volunteer assistant Jason Price huddled to discuss changes they wanted to make for this winter.
Over summer, the returning players, led by the seniors, spent a lot of time on the courts, at least two nights a week. “This is my fifth year at Forest Park,” said Nocerini, “and this is the most basketball off-season that the kids have played. We had great participation.”
Rehabbing: That two-week break between the end of football season and last week’s start of basketball practice gave their bodies time to recover from the knocks and nicks of football season.
“We were ready to go right away,” the coach said. “We’re running a lot more than we have in the past, and a lot of conditioning is going on. The kids have stepped up to the challenge—their attitude is really great.”
Leading the way are seniors Derek Aberly, L.J. Burns, Zach Painter, Chris Hilberg and Jeff Willman. Both Aberly and Burns played a lot last season.
Aberly will be late to the dance: He stretched ligaments in his knee during FP’s playoff game against L’Anse. “It’s a week-to-week thing,” said Nocerini. “We’re not going to play him until he is 100 percent confident he’s ready to go. We want him for the long haul.”
“I’m expecting a lot out of our seniors, both playing time and leadership. We’re going to be a young team. If you figure out floor minutes, we’re a very young basketball team.”
Restocking: The youngsters include juniors Austin Snell, Jeff Johnson, Mitch Bal and Raymond Tomasik. Snell played on varsity last year and is showing more confidence, his coach said, while Johnson, Bal and Tomasik are up from the JV team: “They were big contributors on the JV team last year.” Also on the roster are juniors Hank Steiro and Cameron Davis, who didn’t play basketball last year.
The only sophomore is Lee Graff, who hurt his knee late last season and also won’t play for the first month or so. Graff was the JV team’s main scoring force until his injury—Nocerini said he could be cleared to play after New Year’s.
“It’s going to be just like Derek [Aberly]—we want him 100 percent confident he’s ready to go.”
A good word to describe many of the Trojans is versatile: A number of them can play anywhere on the floor. “That’s going to give us the ability to do a lot more,” Nocerini noted. “Good ball-handling skills, good decision-makers. When all the pieces finally come together, it should make for an exciting basketball team.”
This year’s team doesn’t have a lot of height—Hilberg is the big man at 6-4. But as for speed …
“Run and gun,” said the coach. “These kids are fast. You watched Snell and Johnson on the football field. Aberly, too, and Tomasik is a very athletic kid.
“They’re not going to come down and set up an offense—they’re going to beat you down the floor. We’re going to be a different looking team this year,” All the starters from that district game vs. ETC last March? Graduated and gone.
Revitalizing: Don’t expect it to come together right away. The Trojans have to learn their roles, and the roster will change during the season, especially when Aberly and Graff return to action.
“We will be a different looking team come February, when those two are ready to roll. Extremely different.” And, he hopes, extremely difficult for District 127 foes when the tournament takes place at Bessemer March 4 to 8.
The Trojans went 5-9 in the always-tough Skyline Conference last season. Carney went all the way to the state semifinals last spring; The Wolves will be tough this year, too, and Mid Peninsula and North Central should be right up there.
“It’s a fun conference,” Nocerini said. “It’s exciting. For Class D basketball, it’s good quality ball.”
Coming up: The Trojans open at home against Mid Peninsula on Dec. 3. They host Republic-Michigamme Dec 6 and visit West Iron on Dec. 10.