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Scoring doesn't tell whole story/Paul Peterson

April 5, 2011
By Paul Peterson , The Daily Mining Gazette

The late Casey Stengel had a stock reply whenever he was asked a question about his managing skills:

"Go look it up, it's in the record books."

Americans have always been fascinated by numbers. Any self-respecting sports fan can tell you that Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees hit in 56 straight games. That Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a NBA game. Or that Brett Favre started a record 294 games in his pro career.

And that fascination with numbers came up often after a recent story I wrote about about the all-time leading boys basketball scorers in the Copper Country.

Points don't begin to tell the total worth of a player, although they will give you quite a bit to consider.

Of the top 56 scorers (at 14 local schools), there were numerous other stellar players who didn't make the list.

Take Tom Clisch and Larry Kangas of Baraga High.

Clisch, a 6-foot-3 center, was one of the smoothest pivot players ever to grace a local hardcourt. He nearly led the Vikings to a Class D state championship in 1960.

Kangas, who possessed one of the most accurate jump shots I've ever seen, scored 34 points against Britton-Macon in the 1964 state championship game. Britton-Macon had a front line of 6-9, 6-6 and 6-5 and eventually won the game.

How about Terry Pokela and Tom Peters of Chassell High? The two served as the big men in the Panthers' record-setting run in the mid-1950s, a perfect complement to standout guard Don Mattson.

Pokela and Peters each averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds a game in the 1956-57 season.

Or look at Bill Tarbox of Hancock High and Gary Guisfredi of Jeffers, who played a generation ago.

Both were do-it-all players who just missed scoring 1,000 points - the so-called magical milestone all players shoot at. But they were excellent all-around players.

There are many others who come to mind. Some played at schools where records weren't always kept. Take Roland Antila and Dennis Miilu of Mass High, or the late Fran Giachino of Laurium Sacred Heart.

Antila, who passed away last year, was noted for his great coaching record at White Pine High. A prolific shooter, he tallied 25 points to lead the Rockets to the 1955 state title.

Miilu, who stood just 5-11, might be the best inside player you never heard of. A jumping jack, he regularly outplayed much taller opponents while starring at Mass, and later at Suomi College, in the 1960s.

The burly Giachino was once described as a "runaway truck" by a Mining Gazette writer. But he had a deft touch around the hoop and would run through a wall for a rebound.

As far as floor generals, Jon Fryxell of Houghton and Gary Lee Wiitanen of Dollar Bay were hard to beat.

Fryxell had a presence on the court that helped the Gremlins get downstate three straight years. Wiitanen, who played 20 years later, was a cool customer who led the Bays to a stunning defeat of Crystal Falls Forest Park in the 1979 regional finals.

The two guards scored just over 1,000 points in their careers, but just missed the top four list at their respective schools.

Does that mean they don't deserve to be remembered among the all-time prep greats? Certainly not, but there has to be a cut-off point to any list.

It would probably require a couple of more columns to list all the great players I've watched over the years.

But as former Finlandia University men's basketball coach Art Van Damme once told me when I asked about a player who had to be dismissed from the team because of unruly off-court behavior in 2004.

"That would take three hours ... and a case of beer."



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