Some names to remember from the 2021 class (plus an eighth-grader) from the ninth-annual Up North Challenge, where The Program beat the West Michigan Lakers in the 15U final.
Cam Baker 5-6 Fr The Program (Davison): There are more highly ranked freshman guards early in the 2021 cycle, but guys like Baker, Beecher’s Julian Gardner and East English Village’s Simon Wheeler don’t fall behind them in skill or ability, just height, for now. Gifted at making space for his own shot while showing maturity to mix it up with the pass and keep his teammates involved.
Nathan Claerbaut 6-7 Fr West Michigan Lakers-Black (Zeeland East): Baby-faced defensive menace with a soft touch from the short corners or free throw line. Lurks and closes quickly as a weakside shot-blocker. Seems to care and plays hard, which many his height and age don’t. Wants to make the right play and the tough one even if frame doesn’t always allow it. A season ahead of banging in the post in practice with MSU D-end recruit Adam Berghorst will be invaluable.
Bennie Crenshaw 5-11 Fr North Oakland Wolfpack (Waterford Kettering): The standard of point guard play is high in this program, as established by the graduating CJ Robinson. Robinson had an understanding of game situation and pace rare at the 15U level. So we shouldn’t be too hard on Crenshaw, who is explosive and talented with the ball but still growing in the nuances of the position. A risk-taker in the lanes who the faster the pace, the more at home he plays.
Connor Dykema 6-5 Fr Impact Elite (Grand Rapids South Christian): Impact Elite played up in the 16U division, but Dykema had the frame and game to produce against the older players. That bodes well for his chance to nudge into the rotation of a top 5 Class B team in South Christian in the regular season. Coordinated athlete for his size who competed in the state track finals for the high jump. Consistently ran end-to-end and had good basket orientation to finish off the catch. Active and alert in the half-court, finding cutters from the post or playing either spot in high-low action.
Jacob Felton 5-11 Fr Majors-Red (Rochester Stoney Creek): Confident, tough, competitive guard who helped the Majors nearly turn the 15U field on its head before falling to The Program in overtime in the opening game. They won out from there. Lots of players want the ball when things are going easy or well. Felton enjoys its burden when the game is close, and will go get it, from teammates or off the glass. Good enough with the ball that they could clear out and let him attack.
Paul Gadde 6-1 Fr Parallel 45 (Alma): Great-looking stroke and benefits from teammates looking to tee him up from behind the arc. Smart player who tends to end up in the right spots. Not just limited to shooting, as he plays both ends. Gadde showed smart, varsity-caliber defense off the ball and fights on the glass. Needs to work on attacking, slashing game for the future.
Brayden George 6-3 8th The Program (Marlette): Like his brother Bryce did two seasons ago, he looks ready to go in and be a varsity contributor as a freshman. Sometimes didn’t appear to know is own strength, as Brayden would float out to shoot 3s when he had physical mismatches on the older but smaller defenders.
Tommy Gregwer 6-1 Fr Impact Elite (Grandville): Like teammate Connor Dykema above, this is a freshman who looked right at home with IE’s 15U bumped up to 16U, even when going against eventual 16U champion MBA. A Dave Kool-lite kind of physical guard who loves getting into the lane, where he can finish or create. Needs to stay away from the dreaded jump-pass. Gregwer should thrive playing for Ryan Klingler at Grandville.
Drew Goodline 5-6 Fr West Michigan Lakers-Black (Coloma): This little guard came through big in the 15U semifinals, hitting four three-pointers against SAU. When the defense got wise to the bombs Goodline was able to counter closeouts with a pump fake and get shots off against bigger opponents with pump fakes. Looked like more of a shooter than point guard, with the size of the latter.
Carson Gulpker 6-2 Fr West Michigan Lakers-Black (Zeeland West): He was the MVP of the Camp Darryl Classic the week before and made another strong run at the UP North Challenge, the Lakers reaching the 15U final. Strong, aggressive wing slasher or transition finisher who is tough to deal with when coming downhill. Can spin and finish at speed or beat defenses in the gaps with a pull-up shot. Uses his to push smaller guards off the ball defensively. Conversely want to lay off and let Gulpker shoot instead of drive.
Alex Mikelski 6-5 Fr The Program (Saginaw Swan Valley): Just scratching the surface, but between height and natural talent also produced enough to make the all-tournament team from the Up North Challenge 15U champions. Good instincts around the hoop, kept the ball high, could score on his own misses. Showed some flashes of his all-around future game taking a defensive rebound end-to-end. Moves easily, like a player, and will have an impact next season in the TVC-Centra. Needs to devote more energy and focus to the less obvious rebounds and defensive transition.
Austin Johnson 6-7 Fr Camp Darryl (Paw Paw): Has the frame and weight of a football lineman, so you have to wait for him to get there but Johnson is increasingly making it worth it to do so. Improving. Hard to move and gets all the rebounds in the area. Will have to improve his mobility and flexibility.
Davion Poleware 6-4 Fr Spring Arbor United (Jackson): A thumper who is an ideal complement to SAU’s plethora of skilled shooters and a prime pick-and-roll partner with strong hands. Poleware earned all-tournament accolades from a semifinalist team. Did damage on the glass and took advantage of mismatches to horse his man down and get good shots. A classic 15U forward who can do so much at that level but will have to keep expanding his game, particularly shooting touch, as other players catch up physically.
Logan Schaefer 6-4 Fr Championship Sports (Ithaca): Like Poleware above, has the size to play the lane against most 15U competition. Does a good job walling off on defense and you have to put a body on him, Schaefer will rebound it. Can struggle to finish against length and activity.
Tyler Stezowski 6-1 Fr West Michigan Lakers-Black (Hamilton): A week ago in the Camp Darryl Classic final he looked like the battle-damaged flutist from the famous American Revolution painting with his wrapped up head. Stezowski was un-mummified Up North and is aggressive lead guard game helped the Lakers to another finals appearance. Puts pressure on a defense in transition or attacking the paint in the half-court.
Landon VanBeck 6-2 Fr West Michigan Lakers-Purple (Grand Haven): When it peaks, the Lakers Purple team can go, and they did here reaching the 15U semifinals. VanBeck made the all-tournament team. He’s improved over the spring to be a reliable frontcourt scoring option. Strong and can play above his height on the glass.
Carson Voss 6-1 Fr Parallel 45 (Dansville): He’s improved two-fold since the start of the spring season. Would be one of the top players in this class with some consistency, but with Voss it’s a week-by-week proposition. When it rains it pours with his shooting when the 3s drop they tend to come in bundles. That makes him a very tough cover because he has a long first step to the basket and can make tough shots in traffic. Good energy as a teammate and will run all day. Shot selection and decision-making leave something to be desired.