HOUGHTON - In many ways, Michigan Tech guard Dani Blake has become the ideal example of the usefulness of a redshirt year.
Extremely long and extremely athletic, Blake came to Houghton three years ago hailed as (perhaps) the next coming of then-senior Lindsey Lindstrom.
Her defensive gifts were obvious. With a super-sized wingspan and quickness in spades, Blake could have made a nice career for herself as a stopper on one end of the floor and a modest contributor on the other.
Michigan Tech’s Dani Blake scans the Lake Superior State defense during a game last season. Blake, a redshirt sophomore, and the Huskies begin GLIAC?play tonight against Malone. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
But Blake wanted more.
So she sat her freshman year - though she had the talent to play - and spent the next 20-plus months working in the gym to get her offensive skill set aligned with her defensive prowess.
The results so far three games into her sophomore season are 13.7 points per game on 55 percent shooting - both numbers second on the team to Kylie Moxley - and an increased emphasis in coach Kim Cameron's offense.
And the feeling is apparent throughout the Husky program that she is just getting started.
"When I was recruited it was mostly for a defensive specialist, but starting since my redshirt year I have been doing extra individual (drills) with the coaches just trying to expand my game and make it so its both sides of the court," Blake said. "I definitely put in a lot of work."
Surrounded by three-point shooters and a dominant post-presence in Moxley, Blake has found her niche where so many swing athletes do, seeking the ball in the high post.
Long hours in the gym have turned what was a pedestrian jumper into a constant threat inside the arc, while Blake's swooping forays to the hoops become unblockable once she gets a step on her defender with long legs and long arms.
"That is where I love it," Blake said. "I can hit the 15-footer if they sag off of me or I love driving to the hole. That's my game. I love just getting around people or jumping over them."
"She presents a mismatch with everything," Cameron added.
Now Cameron wants more from the 6-foot guard.
Blake has scored her points so far in end-of-the-shot-clock situations and occasionally when Cameron dials up a play for her.
In other words, when it is obvious she needs to shoot.
Now Blake has to work on keeping that aggressive edge all game, looking to exploit her mismatch in the flow of the offense and demanding the ball when has a clear advantage.
"We are trying to get her a little more aggressive in transition," Cameron said. "I think she can take anybody to the basket, and she can get fouled. And in most cases we can post her up. We just have to get better at making her a full focal point of our offense. She is stepping into that role slowly, but surely."
That aggressiveness Cameron wants will be required in one specific facet of the game today against Malone in the Huskies GLIAC-opener.
The Pioneers bring a 4-0 record to the SDC, and have overwhelmed opponents in just one area.
They grab offensive rebounds. A ton of them.
The Pioneers average 18.5 offensive boards a game, and have done it with a lineup that uses four guards and just one post player - all of whom are 5-foot-10 or shorter.
The Huskies will likely start three players taller than 5-foot-11.
"They outwork everybody that they play. They have 74 offensive rebounds in four games, and that is just an insane amount," Cameron said. "They just outwork everybody and make a conscious effort every time. we have to make sure we are one of those teams that matches their toughness."
All their offensive success stems from their work on the boards.
Malone averages 24 free throw attempts per game, but usually get to the line on second-chance opportunities.
"It relates directly to their free throws. They get offensive rebounds and they get fouled on the putbacks," Cameron said.
"We need to match or surpass their intensity," Blake added.
Tech defeated Malone 68-56 last season and will host Walsh Saturday.