Athleticism will be strong point for Cheboygan boys basketball

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Cheboygan junior Luke Sarrault, right, looks to make a pass while senior teammate Daniel Wilcome defends during an early-season practice. The Cheboygan boys basketball team will open its season with a non-conference road matchup on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Cheboygan junior Luke Sarrault, right, looks to make a pass while senior teammate Daniel Wilcome defends during an early-season practice. The Cheboygan boys basketball team will open its season with a non-conference road matchup on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

CHEBOYGAN — Jason Friday has never been a huge fan of setting expectations.

What he is a huge fan of is winning.

As he heads into his second season as Cheboygan varsity boys basketball coach, Friday believes he has a team that can accomplish big things.

It's just a matter of it all clicking together at the right time.

"We talked about getting a number on one of the banners in the gym, whether it's conference, whether that's district," said Friday, who posted a 6-5 overall record and second-place finish in the Straits Area Conference last season. "I was a big Jim Leyland fan when he managed the (Detroit) Tigers, and one of the things was he really wasn't a real big goal setter, because he always talked about that if you don't set those goals and you don't reach those goals, then you could think it was a disappointing season. That's not necessarily the case. You set a goal and other factors come into play, so I'm not a real big goal person but I'm excited about our team. I think that we have a lot of potential."

After a decent opening campaign, Friday is now ready to take the next step with his program.

That means helping his players improve on the new offensive system he implemented when he began his tenure.

"When you take over a position and you're the head man, you have a vision of what you want your offense to be like, but then when you see defenses that are thrown into the mix, some of those things you thought would work, they don't work, you've gotta make some adjustments, tweak them a little bit," Friday said. "As you continue to study the offense, you pick up things that you go, 'Hey, let's give that a try,' and so there's a lot of tweaks that we've added to the offense a little bit, try to get everyone a little bit more involved."

What Friday is excited about is the overall athleticism of his squad, which is led by seniors David Heyer, Carson Mercer, Henry Stempky and Kaleb Blaskowski.

Heyer will be a scoring threat both outside and in the post for the Chiefs, who finished 5-3 in the SAC last season.

"A big leader this year is David Heyer, not just on the court but in the weight room, and he's always encouraging kids," Friday said. "He has really committed himself to the weights and he got well over 10,000 shots in over the summer, really worked on his ball handling and his three-point game."

Mercer, a guard, and Stempky, a guard/forward, are a pair of players with the ability to put up solid scoring numbers on any given night, while Blaskowski, a guard, is a capable perimeter shooter.

"(Mercer) loves to shoot the ball, great offensive player, right hand, left hand," Friday said. "Henry Stempky has that toughness. A lot like Dylan Balazovic, he'll put his head down and get to the hole. He was in the gym a few times over the summer, worked on his shot, and Kaleb Blaskowski did as well.

"Those are the core four right there. How they play is pretty much how we're going to play."

Senior forward Daniel Wilcome, who hasn't played competitive basketball since eighth grade, also brings athleticism to the team.

"I told (Wilcome) that if he plays defense and rebounds, he's going to play," Friday said. "He's a strong, quick guy."

Jason Friday, right, is heading into his second season as Cheboygan's varsity boys basketball coach.
Jason Friday, right, is heading into his second season as Cheboygan's varsity boys basketball coach.

Cheboygan's juniors feature plenty of potential, as guard Connor Gibbons, Luke Sarrault, Eli Couture and Max Hart are in their first varsity seasons.

"We're really excited about Luke Sarrault, who will add some height and has a love for the game," Friday said. "Connor Gibbons is one that I think going to help us with his three-point shooting, and the same with Eli (Couture) and Max (Hart). We're really excited about those guys."

One of the youngest players on the team is Balazovic, a sophomore who will provide versatility and toughness.

"(Balazovic) just brings strength, toughness, fearlessness, energy," Friday said. "He will take it to the hole and will find a way to get there. He plays basketball like he does football, just really tough. And he will find a way to get it done."

During the shortened 2020-21 campaign, the Chiefs were both hot and cold with their shooting.

So, Friday wants to see more consistency from his players — and believes he will get it.

"We've gotta knock some shots down, but one of the things we fell into last season was sometimes we'd become too perimeter scoring-oriented," Friday said. "When we played St. Ignace and we lost to them that second time, we were 2-for-20 from the three-point line. We played Rudyard in the second half of the year, and we were like 1-for-18 from the three-point line, so you gotta realize when the shots are not falling that you can't continue to turn into launchpad. You have to find ways to get shots closer to the bucket, higher percentage shots, and I think we've added some things this year that hopefully we'll be able to get some high-percentage shots."

Rebounding has also been addressed in a big way during the offseason and preseason.

"If we can rebound — and we've had an added emphasis on rebounding this year, we start every practice with rebounding drills — if we take care of the ball, if we rebound, those two things right there, that's going to add to our chances of becoming victorious," Friday said.

Cheboygan will host a scrimmage against Onaway on Thursday, before traveling to Rogers City for its season opener on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

This article originally appeared on Cheboygan Daily Tribune: Athleticism will be strong point for Cheboygan boys basketball

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