There’s snow on the ground, winter break is just around the corner and Michigan high school basketball is getting underway.
Last season the Okemos boys varsity basketball team made it all the way to the state semifinals and a game at the Breslin Center. Even if you aren’t a big fan of basketball, you may remember this day because of the early release from school.
“We had been talking about going to the Breslin from such a young age and no one really even believed in us so it meant a lot to all of us because that’s who we were playing for: eachother,” said Noah Pruitt (12).
Last year’s team was one of the best in recent memory, but expectations are still high for this year’s squad.
Okemos lost some notable seniors such as Evan Thomas, Zach Hetfield, and Fabian Leone who all got significant minutes last season. On the bright side, the 2019-2020 team is expected to include nearly 10 returning players from last year’s final four team. One of those returning players is Pruitt.
Pruitt has been playing varsity basketball since he was just a freshman. He’s become a well known player in the Lansing area. Pruitt is best known for his quickness, elite ball handling and being a skilled two way point guard who can give opponent’s fits on defense and get his teammates involved on the offensive end. College coaches have been taking notice as he picked up his first Division II offer this offseason from Concordia University.
“We want to win the [CAAC] blue for the third time in a row then go on another run in the playoffs and contend for a state championship. Individually I just want to be on first team all state,” said Pruitt.
Other key returning players from last season include Mitchy Sambaer (12), Grant Holtzer (12) and Austin Gibson (12).
Sambaer was the backup to Pruitt last year and made solid use of his minutes. He was a good facilitator and could run the offense well while Pruitt was on the bench. Sambaer is also a lights out shooter and can knock down threes when needed. He’s such an excellent shooter that him and a few other players on the team and in the area refer to themselves as the “Butter Boyz” due to their smooth shooting stroke. There are two other members of the “Butter Boyz” on the team besides Sambaer, Ali Mousavi (12) and Gibson.
Gibson had to compete with multiple guards last year for minutes, but will be getting more this year with the departure of Leone and Hetfield. He’s a prolific shooter and when he’s feeling it, he rarely misses. An example of this is in a playoff game against Coldwater last season. Gibson came off the bench and hit multiple huge three’s to give Okemos a boost and help lead them to a 44-33 victory.
Another key player is Holtzer. Holtzer just got done with a successful individual football season and is hoping for a good year on the court as well. He’s a crazy athlete that can jump out of the gym. He’ll be a key inside presence for the Chieftains this year and could be one of their leading scorers.
A few surprises this year could be Will Young (10) and Mousavi.
Mousavi is another member of the previously mentioned “Butter Boyz” and had high expectations entering last year. Mousavi never played freshman basketball and instead played two years of Junior Varsity. He unfortunately had a poor start to his varsity career as he suffered a serious wrist injury the first game of the season against Lansing Catholic. Mousavi was sidelined for a large amount of the season, but he’s healthy this season and ready to make an impact.
Young played Junior Varsity last year as a freshman and was the leading scorer on the team. When Okemos needed to pull up a player from J.V, for the playoffs, the coaching staff decided on Young. He’s played with the varsity squad all summer and I wouldn’t be surprised if he received significant minutes as either a point guard or shooting guard.
While this team loses some key pieces from their incredible run last season, Okemos enters the season with a talented team that is one of the favorites to win the league.