LeClaire is key to Dollar Bay’s success

Dollar Bay’s Brendan LeClaire drives past E-TC’s Jaden Borseth on Wednesday at Michigan Tech. (David Archambeau/ Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — There might be something wrong with Brendan LeClaire. How else do you explain a kid that smiles while he runs? One that actually takes joy in conditioning drills and relishes in playing a behind the scenes, no-nonsense, no-credit role on the basketball court. 

LeClaire is the kind of athlete coaches pray for, the kind that makes Dollar Bay’s Jesse Kentala thank his lucky stars for every day. Because Dollar Bay is full of talent, but the Blue Bolts wouldn’t be 12-0 without him. They wouldn’t have knocked off No. 1 Ewen-Trout Creek 51-42 on Wednesday at Michigan Tech without him. And quite frankly, they wouldn’t be as good without him.

“He is invaluable to a program,” Kentala said. “He is the most competitive kid on the court, he is the most intense kid in practice and in games. He holds everyone accountable at all times, but he is the most fun-loving kid you will meet in your entire life. He is smiley, he is funny, but he knows the line of when that is too much and when he has to bring it back. 

“He is our captain. You know Jaden (Janke) and Devin (Schmitz) get a lot of credit, as they should, and Jacob (Iacono) and Brandon (Thompson) played great tonight, but Brendan is really our catalyst.”

It’s true that when people talk about the Blue Bolts, LeClaire is probably the last name to grace their lips. But Kentala thinks they should give the junior some credit. Even if he won’t give himself any.

“It is just fine (if I don’t get recognized),” LeClaire said. “It doesn’t matter to me because we have such great players, and they are all having such a great season. We all do well, and it is a team effort.”

LeClaire deferring praise makes sense when you watch him on the court. He is an old-school point guard in every sense. LeClaire would rather create for others than score himself, and he feels most at home on the defensive end of the court.

“He is definitely a throwback,” Kentala said. “It is weird to me because when I played basketball I always loved to score, I wanted to put the ball in the hoop. Brendan doesn’t. He gets pure joy in stopping someone else from doing what they want to do. And in a team full of scores, having that piece and that guy is very important.”

On Wednesday, his defensive mindset was vital to the Dollar Bay victory. While as a team the Blue Bolts sagged into the paint in order to limit Jake Witt’s touches, LeClaire was tasked with staying on the outside to guard Eli Nordine, E-TC’s sharpshooter. 

Nordine finished with 13 points and he had to work for every one of them. 

“He’s the guy that we said, ‘You are going to guard Eli Nordine, and we are fairly confident that you are going to lock him down,’ “ Kentala said. “Nothing against Nordine, but Brendan is just a great defender. He was awesome tonight. He didn’t give Nordine looks, he busted through screens.”

Anyone who wants proof of LeClaire’s impact need only look near the end of the third quarter. LeClaire subbed out and E-TC went on a 6-0 run in 45 seconds, with Nordine scoring five points. 

Kentala couldn’t get LeClaire back on the court fast enough. 

LeClaire may not look to score often, but he did against E-TC, at least more than usual. The senior finished with nine points on three 3-pointers, two of which came in response to a big E-TC third-quarter run. Dollar Bay’s lead was cut to 30-20 when LeClaire followed a long-range shot from Thompson with a 3 of his own to give Dollar Bay a 36-20 lead. A few possessions later, he drilled another to give Dollar Bay a 19-point advantage — the team’s largest lead of the game at that point. 

“I was just trying to keep our run going and keep the momentum going our way,” he said. “Our defense was a little weak at times, but our team came back together. My shot felt good, and on our team, if you are feeling good we like to share the ball. We know who has the hot hand.”

LeClaire isn’t going to put up many shots in a game. He doesn’t really want to, and he doesn’t really have to, but he also knows his role. 

“My role is to bring energy, and I like it,” he said with a smile. “I like it a lot. I wasn’t gifted with height, so I have to do something else.”

And for Kentala and Dollar Bay, LeClaire plays his part perfectly.

“He has never checked a scorebook, he has never asked to score more points, he has never said, ‘Hey coach, I need to get mine.’ Never,” Kentala said. “He just asks ‘What can I do to help this team win?’ And that is what separates great teams from good ones.”

So yes, it is a little crazy that LeClaire smiles when he runs, but it’s also a little crazy that the Blue Bolts just beat the No. 1 team in the U.P.

And in this case, crazy is a good thing.