ESCANABA - Copper Country boys' basketball demonstrated it's on the upswing in 2012, as eight local players made the cut, more than any year since 2008.
In addition to Ewen-Trout Creek's Jordan LaPlant and Dillon Gordon, who made the Dream Team and Class D First Team, respectively, six players were chosen to second teams, three in each class.
Showing the potential for even more improvement, three of the six will be back for more next season, two of them for two more seasons.
The super sophomores selected, two of five peninsula-wide, are both in the WestPAC: L'Anse's Jimmy Veker and Hancock's Alex Almquist.
Veker, a 6-foot-3 forward, averaged 20 points and seven rebounds this season, while Almquist, a 6-6 center, put up 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks per game.
Veker's best game of the season was an eye-popping 37-point effort in a double-overtime home win against Ishpeming Jan. 6, which was more than any local player scored in a regular season game this year (Gordon had 39 in a district semifinal against Forest Park).
Almquist played in a balanced Hancock offense with four scorers in double figures, but his defensive abilities played a major role as the Bulldogs took a second consecutive WestPAC title, an 17-2 regular season, and the No. 4 spot in the final U.P. poll.
The third WestPAC honoree is Calumet senior Andy Steber. The 5-10 point guard played a key role in Calumet winning its first district championship in decades, averaging a team-high 13.8 points, many on repeated tough drives through the paint for baskets or fouls. His season high was 30 points against Houghton on Jan. 27.
He made 99 of 112 free-throw attempts, which is one of the top 20 percentages in the state and participated in the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan free-throw contest at the state tournament in East Lansing earlier this month.
In Class D, Jeffers junior Troy Kinnunen came back from an early-season injury to have an All-U.P. season, taking one of three Copper Country Conference spots on the second team.
Kinnunen, a 5-10 guard, missed the Jets' first four games but found his stride late, scoring 23 points in each of Jeffers' district tournament wins, including the championship game against Chassell. He also had 30 late in the regular season against Lake Linden-Hubbell.
Both of the CCC's co-MVPs were also selected. Chassell senior Garrett Warren, a 5-10 averaged 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds, while Ontonagon's 6-4 center Jake Yaklyvich put up 16.4 points and 12 boards a game for one of only four double-double averages in the U.P. this year.
Josh Turunen of Baraga was the only player to receive special mention (at least two votes from the panel), while Luke Paul of Hancock, Mike Borseth of E-TC and D.J. Chaudier of Baraga received honorable mention.