Gielczyk: Manistee CC Boys Basketball Off to Fast Start
Although it’s still early in the season, and there are many challenges ahead before the post-season begins, Manistee Catholic’s boys basketball team is off to its best start in a few years and enter the Christmas break on a high note.
The Sabers recorded their fifth straight win after a season-opening loss to Onekama with an unexpectedly convincing 14-point win, 67-53 over defending Western Michigan D League champion Bear Lake in Manistee on Wednesday night.
In a battle of league unbeatens, the game was close until the final minutes when the Lakers (5-2 overall, 5-1 WMD) were forced to start fouling to stop the clock and hopefully get an opportunity for a defensive rebound.
But, that plan backfired when the Sabers made the Lakers pay for that strategy by draining 19 of 22 attempts from the free throw line in the final minutes to stretch their lead out to double figures. The Sabers shot 23 of 26 at the stripe for the game.
The Sabers led by only six, 39-33 after three periods.
While the Sabers go into the holidays feeling upbeat, they understand that there’s still work to be done. They’ve only played five games in the league and have 13 more to go. It’s far from over.
They can’t rest on their laurels and become complacent.
“We’re happy that we’ve won, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” senior Preston Picardat said at Thursday night’s practice. “Even in our wins we’ve made a lot of mistakes that we can correct.
“But, we’ve got a couple of weeks here over break that we can get a lot better.”
Picardat says it’s been a team effort.
“We don’t care who’s scoring, as long as we’re scoring as a team,” he said. “Who’s getting good shots, that’s all we really care about. I think it’s working well. We can still get better at moving the ball and stuff.
“The league is definitely tough. Anybody can beat anybody. If we don’t come to play every night, then we’re going to lose. We just have to be ready. We have a tough schedule in January.”
He didn’t play a lot of post last year, when the Sabers improved from a 1-19 season in 2016-17 to 13-8 in 2017-18, but Picardat has been teaming with junior Kyle Mikolajczak down low more often this year.
It’s proven to be a productive combination.
“We move the ball well together,” Picardat said. “I think we are learning where each other is at certain times, and he can score when you get him the ball down in the block. That makes it easy.”
Mikolajczak, who came up from the junior varsity as a sophomore last year and had an immediate impact offensively, scored 42 points in a 66-56 win over Big Rapids Crossroads earlier this year and is averaging close to 20 points a game.
But he is smart enough not to try to force any shots, and passes the ball back out front if his path to the basket is blocked. He’s frequently defended by two or three players, but few teams can match his height and length inside.
“We don’t think about our stats personally. We love to win,” Mikolajczak said. “However we can do that is what we take. I think (Preston) and I have found our connection.
“I remember last year he was our point guard, and now we’re changing. Whatever roles we play well for the team, we’re accepting. I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable, and using my size to my advantage. We can’t get overconfident. We have to stay focused, play our game and I think we can have a pretty good season.”
Sabers coach Mike Feliczak says the players are excited about being 5-1 and 5-0 in the league, but aren’t getting too full of themselves because there is still a lot of season to play, and they haven’t won any titles yet.
Bringing back three seniors in their third year on the varsity the Sabers expect to make even bigger strides this year, but realize those hopes could be ruined if they become overconfident with their early success.
Picardat, point guard Brayden Perkins and sturdy John Slivka have endured the low points of a one-win season and basked in last year’s resurgence to the top of the league.
“Yes, we bring back a lot of experience, but we’ve got a lot of youth we’re trying to mix in there with (sophomores) Blake (Johnson) and Mateo (Barnett),” Feliczak said. “That’s interesting. You don’t know what you’re going to get every night.
“But, so far they’ve performed well, and I think by the end of the year, they’re going to serious factors for us.”
While the Sabers are on pace right now to get to where they want to go, they still have a lot of goals in front them and a lot of improvement yet to make before they reach the post-season.
There’s still a long way to go. But they are starting to gel as a team.
“(Kyle) is consistent. He’s got some size and athletic ability,” Feliczak said. “We’re constantly looking to feed him the ball inside. We’re a much better team when we go inside.
“When we get the ball moving inside and outside, we’re going to find Kyle. If we just have that patience and moxy to us where we know we just have to work the ball around, that’s when we’re the most dangerous.
“Throwing the ball around the outside of a zone, or just coming down and throwing up a shot is not going to get us where we want to be. It’s going through our options and then picking our spots.”
Most of that time the main spot has been Mikolajczak, who has been able to work his way open for a pass. He worked a great deal in the off-season and it shows in his performance on the court.
Picardat is a leader by example, Feliczak said.
“I call him my glue,” the coach added. “He might get four points, he might get 15 points. But, he’s going to get his rebounds, he’s going to get his assists. He’s going to lead, and he’s going to be vocal.
“He takes over time outs, he takes over some at practice time. I tell the kids points are nice, but there a lot of things that come into the formula of winning and losing. To me, he’s just as valuable as Kyle. He has court awareness, no doubt about it. He knows what’s going on on the floor.
“He gets his share (of rebounds) because he works hard. He’s a hard working kid. He’s a good ball handler. We ask him to do a ton of things that maybe other people don’t see. He’s our second or third option as far as ball handling. He’s a jack of all trades.”
Perkins is asked to play a lot of defense, guarding the other team’s best player, and give the Sabers what he can in scoring. He scored 15 against the Lakers.
Slivka communicates well with the younger players, and is another coach on the floor like Picardat.
Every team needs someone who does the little things, and Slivka does that. He also takes the ball out of bounds, and is another piece to the puzzle that has made the team hum in the early going.
“We’re still tweaking stuff,” Feliczak said. “We still have new ideas. There’s some stuff we haven’t been able to put in yet, various out of bounds plays (and) variations of our offense.
“So, are we there where we want to be? No, because we’re not going to be satisfied. There were some games that we played that we weren’t totally intense.
“We’re cleaning up some stuff. But, I don’t think it ever ends. We can always get more out of the kids, and that’s our job. We’re not there, but we’ll keep working.”
As Feliczak said. the Sabers haven’t won anything yet. But, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than where the Sabers are right now.
(Merry Christmas to all MISportsNow fans).
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.