One of the best decisions I've made recently was to make the southbound trip to Escanaba for the All-U.P. basketball meeting a two-day affair.
Not only is a six-hour round trip sandwiching five hours of haggling an exhausting enterprise, I realized somewhere in eastern Baraga County that it was the first time I'd been out of the coverage area since Christmas.
What's the point of this story, you ask?
The U.P. is a big place, and primarily for that reason, I would ask you consider the selections with the same standards I hope you hold me to. Expect omniscience or infallibility and you'll be sorely disappointed.
Unfortunately, the number of All-U.P. selections I saw in person this year dipped for the second straight season. Of the 70 boys and girls picked for the teams, I saw 22, down one from the year before.
As for the other 48, all I was left to rely on were numbers (which can be notoriously unreliable) and anecdotal evidence. But the decisions have been made and I figure we made more right calls than wrong.
Until I figure out how to bend space and time in my Oldsmobile, there'll be gaps in my knowledge. Now that the embers of the 2011-12 season have cooled a bit, here's one more attempt to fill in gaps.
Defensive Player of the Year
Calumet boys' team
I'm cheating a little bit here on multiple fronts. Negaunee's 60 points in the Class C regional semifinals actually pushed the Copper Kings' scoring defense average (38.9 ppg) above that of Hancock (38.3). I'm also copping out by selecting a team instead of a player, but this is something of an 'achievement in consistency' award.
Calumet has allowed 38.9, 41.9, 40.3 and 38.7 points per game over the last four seasons. Though Hancock has the lower average, Calumet's median (the middle number if all their games were arranged from best to worst), is 37 to Hancock's 39.
I don't think a team's scoring average equals its overall quality because anyone can practice shooting in the driveway forever on their own time. Defense requires coaching and teamwork. Calumet's got a lot of both.
Team Play of the Year
Ontonagon girls' team
It's not an outlandish statement to say this was not the best year for Class D girls' basketball. But I don't go to games to provide reviews like Roger Ebert.
The raw numbers say this: an Ontonagon team that lost its top two scorers and had minimal size improved its record and was unbeaten in its league despite not having a player average in double figures.
Best Under-The-Radar Season
Ethan Kinnunen, Jeffers
Something of a career achievement award again. If high school basketball has such a thing as a 'grizzled veteran,' this Jeffers guard is certainly it. Furthermore, did you know he scored more than 600 points in his prep career yet never finished any of his four seasons at JHS with double digits in scoring?
He got in the scorebook 78 times in four seasons and contributed much more to the Jets outside the scoring column.
Consistent production is meaningful, and his graduation will leave a void for Jeffers to fill.
Best Game of the Year
Hancock 52, Ewen-Trout Creek 47, Dec. 8, 2011
I'm sure if you compared game tape, this one from the first week of the season probably wasn't a technical classic, but as they say in boxing, 'styles make fights,' and this was a good one.
Hancock completely gummed up the Panthers attack, holding E-TC to 19 first-half points, but Ewen made runs of 15-2 and 10-0 in the second half and led by four midway through the fourth, only for the Bulldogs to deliver the knockout on the counterpunch.
It would be E-TC's only regular season loss and a major statement game that established Hancock among the U.P.'s elite throughout the season.
Newcomer of the Year
Ellen Twardzik, Calumet
If there was also an award for 'Crying Shame of the Year," Twardzik would certainly qualify as well. The freshman had scored in double figures in six of her first seven prep games, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in L'Anse Jan. 3.
Had her 11.9 point average been enough to qualify, she would have been the area's fourth-leading scorer (behind Taylor Dillinger and Joey Carroll of Houghton and Julia Daavettila of Dollar Bay) as a freshman, and if you throw out her two points in a blowout win over the Bays, her average is just behind Dillinger in second.
Thankfully, there's still many games to go in her prep career. May this thumbs-up also include well-wishes for rehab and next season.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.