ESCANABA — A year and a half ago, Bay College in Escanaba announced that they would be adding an athletics program to their campus. That included a men’s basketball team and after months of recruiting, the Norse are getting ready for their first exhibition game this weekend.
Practices are finally underway for the Bay College men’s basketball team. Head coach Matt Johnson calls the 16–month journey a once–in–a–life opportunity.
“To have the fortune to be able to come in and build something from scratch and set the foundation, that kind of opportunity doesn’t come around all that often. It’s been a wild ride already and I’m really looking forward to being able to lace our shoes up and tip it off against somebody that isn’t wearing our uniform. It will be nice to play somebody else,” Johnson said.
Johnson admits it was a challenge to get the team to where it is today.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting kids to believe in the vision that you have when they can’t see any history or any tradition of what’s been here in years past. I think that was the biggest thing, getting kids to buy in to the fact that we’re going to do this the right way. We’re going to have an opportunity to build something really special. Obviously, we’ve been fortunate enough to have some really good kids buy into it,” Johnson said.
One thing that immediately caught the eye of the players is the new gym which features a picture of the U.P.
“I’ve grown up playing at the Y, just pickup games and shooting around. It wasn’t in the best condition back then. When I first walked in here to see the new gym for the first time, it’s something special. I think it’s really nice. The floor looks nice. It’s a big improvement,” Escanaba-native Tyler Willette said.
The team features almost a dozen Yoopers, many of whom have played against each other in high school. But practice still makes perfect for a team that is comprised completely of freshman.
“At first they were difficult because we have to know each others’ tendencies. But as the weeks go on, everyone is working together and the team is looking really good,” Manistique-native Darien Nichols said.
“I think we’ve got the pieces and talent there to do some special things. We’ll just see how all the pieces fall into place and how well they gel. That’s going to be what determines our success this year,” said Johnson.
Next week, the Norse will have an exhibition game against Northern Michigan. Playing at the Berry Events Center is a dream come true for players like former Negaunee Miner Dre Tuominen and former Marquette Redmen Garrett Finkbeiner.
“It’s going to be crazy. I’ve grown up watching them. I never though I would actually be on that court playing an actual game. Words can’t describe it. I’m sure all my family and all my friends, they already told me that they’ll be there and watching us and some other local guys that they’ve seen play. They’re going to look forward to watching me and the rest of the team go out there and put on a show hopefully,” said Finkbeiner.
“I’ve always been composed in big games. I just look at it like it’s another game. They are D2 but that doesn’t mean much to me. I’ve been playing with those guys since I was a sophomore in high school. For me it won’t be much of a change, but for the other guys, I hope we can get in there and stay composed and just act like it’s another game,” Tuominen said.
Expectations won’t be too high for the Norse but Coach Johnson says this inaugural season means a lot to the local community.