E-TC’s Jake Witt signs NLI to play basketball at Michigan Tech

Ewen-Trout Creek's Jake Witt signs a National Letter of Intent to play college basketball at Michigan Tech Wednesday afternoon at the E-TC gym. With him are his Mom, Patti Witt, and his Dad, Bill Witt. Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood)

EWEN — Five days before practice starts for his senior year on the hardwood at Ewen-Trout Creek, Jake Witt made his college plans official.

Witt signed his National Letter of Intent to play college basketball at Michigan Tech Wednesday afternoon with his family and coaches in attendance at the E-TC gym.

“I’m very excited for Jake,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said. “He’s definitely earned his free schooling and for him to continue with what he started to build here as an athlete at Michigan Tech is going to be outstanding.

“I think he chose the right school. He’s the perfect fit for them. His personality really fits the team that they have there right now.”

Besonen thinks the sky’s the limit for Witt (6-7, 240) with his work in the weight room combined with his natural athleticism. He’ll be learning from Tech head coach Kevin Luke and assistant Josh Buettner, who Besonen said are great at developing players.

“That’s a nice hunk of clay for them to work with and steer his improvement as a player to the needs of their program and what they do,” Besonen said. “They’ve always had big guys who are strong on the block to play off of with all their guards. He’s got shooters every year, so there’s plenty of spacing in the post with all those shooters. Jake’s a great passer, too. So the fit is perfect, I think.”

First, Witt and the Panthers have the potential for a great season.

Besonen said Witt is much stronger and more explosive than last year and even his quickness seemed better on the football field this fall where he had a season worthy of a spot on the All-U.P. 8-player Dream Team. On defense, teams ran away from him; on offense, he was mostly a blocking tight end. He’s coming into practice in better condition without a nagging hip pointer that he had last year.

“Just his confidence knowing that he’s the man I think is going to really help him take off this year,” Besonen said. “We will not use him as a screener and a role player. The ball will be in his hands and he will be expected to score for us. We’re not going to hide that at all.”

The Panthers won last year’s Class D District 127 tournament and are looking to repeat this year. They’re probably the preseason favorite with one of the top players in the U.P. returning in Witt, who was a Class D All-U.P. selection last year after averaging 24.2 points, 17 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game.

“I’m hoping to get where we were last year at the minimum,” Witt said. “I think we have the potential to do that, we just have to put it all together and play as a team.”

Making his decision official before the season even starts means he can focus on high school ball this year.

“I’m hoping to just have a fun senior year,” Witt said. “The weight’s off my shoulders. I don’t have to work to impress anybody anymore. It’s all about getting the job done now.”

Witt received multiple offers for both basketball and football, and he announced this summer that he would play basketball at Tech. Besonen knows Witt could have handled the distractions, but it’s better to go into the season with a clear mind.

“I think he could have handled it anyway, but if there’s a knock on him, it’s probably that he’s an overthinker, especially when it comes to himself. I think he second guesses himself,” Besonen said. “I think he’s going to play much more free instead of having to worry about who’s here watching me tonight and stuff like that.”

Witt follows former E-TC star Dillon Gordon to Tech. Gordon was one of the top scorers in E-TC history before joining the Huskies.

Witt’s dedication in the weight room has rubbed off on some of the younger boy and girl athletes at E-TC, Besonen said.

“There’s kids up there lifting now that I don’t think would have been if he didn’t show them the path and show them that, holy cow what can happen if you put some serious time in,” Besonen said. “And just in school, he’s got no attitude at all. He’s friendly to everybody. He gets along with everybody. He’s not your typical star athlete. He’s very humble. That just comes from his family. His parents raised him that way.”

His family is excited he picked a school with good academics to go along with a good basketball program.

“I think Michigan Tech is a fantastic school with a great reputation, a good academic background. That was our No. 1 priority,” his mom, Patti Witt said. “And we really like the basketball program. We’ve been impressed with the coaches. We met with them for the past two years, at least, off and on. Getting to know them, we feel pretty comfortable with their coaching philosophy and the program itself.”

And they’re pretty happy it’s only an hour away. He has a lot of family in the Midland area, where his Dad, Bill, is from, and that will be close to some of Tech’s conference road games.

“Staying close to home, I think is a good thing for him because his family is so close,” Besonen said.

Basketball was a more natural choice. Even though he was really good at football — he set numerous state records as a wide receiver last year and then excelled in a blocking role this year — basketball won out.

“I think he chose basketball because he’s more comfortable on the floor than he is on the field,” Bill said.

There are a lot of teams in the U.P. that are going to be pretty uncomfortable with that this season.