Love of the game has no boundaries

He not only came to the snowy Copper Country, but Brandon Robinson stayed for four years at Finlandia University.

Robinson, a native of North Hollywood, Ca., made the decision to play basketball at FU. And he did it in a quiet, business-like manner.

Now, getting anyone from the West Coast to remain in the Upper Peninsula is a feat. I can only think of a handful of former athletes at Finlandia and Michigan Tech who spent their entire careers here.

Jeremy Monroe, one of the top rushers in MTU football history, was one. Krista Valdivia, an All-American in volleyball (she also coached at Tech) for the Huskies, was another.

Lions’ coach Mike O’Donnell said that Robinson just liked playing basketball.

“Brandon has a true love for the game,” O’Donnell commented. “He and (teammate) Marcus Geralds were alike in that respect. And both of them were quality kids.”

Robinson totaled more than 1,000 points and 400 assists while running the point guard position. Geralds, a Chicago native, finished just shy of the 1,000-point mark.

But at least Geralds was somewhat used to snow, being from the Midwest.

Robinson said his first year in the area was the toughest.

“Yeah, that first year was tough,” he said. “I had never seen snow, much less what they have up here. But once I got used to it, it was OK.”

Playing the game is enough for a lot of athletes I’ve watched over the years.

Take the case of former Calumet High standout Kristen Hager. Hager was one of the first female basketball standouts in the northend.

She gained All-U.P. honors and played at Michigan Tech, thanks to a great work ethic.

“I practiced at school, then came home and worked on the outdoor court,” she noted after being inducted into the CHS Sports Hall of Fame this past summer. “I drove my friends crazy having them throw the ball back to me.”

Dave Besonen, the former Ewen-Trout Creek High standout of the early 1980s, was another one who practiced endlessly.

“I would throw the basketball at the side of the barn and then wait for the bounce,” Besonen recalled. “I practiced for every game situation that way.”

Besonen scored more than 1,900 points and gained all-state honors for his endless practice on the side.

I could probably name another two dozen local athletes in every sport who had similar workout routines — and who went on to fame.

One of the most notable players in hockey was Calumet’s Mike Usitalo, who fired pucks at a mattress in his basement. Usitalo, who arguably had the hardest shot seen around here, starred at MTU and would play minor league hockey before an injury shortened his career.

Chuck Klingbeil of Houghton worked tirelessly in football and was rewarded by a seven-year career in the National Football League and two more in the CFL.

Whether it’s a kid playing on a city playground or one working in the quiet of a country barn, it all boils down to one thing: Love of the game.