Dave Besonen was a clutch player

Photo courtesy of Ewen-TC High School. Dave Besonen of Ewen-Trout Creek looks for a shot against Covert in the 1982 state title game versus Covert.

TROUT CREEK — In the basketball-mad country of Ewen-Trout Creek, he’s known as the “greatest Panther” of all.

He is Dave Besonen, a player whose career was typified by a string of clutch performances.

To be labeled the greatest player at a school that has produced legends like Gary Fors, Mike Ojala and Jake Witt, among others, is quite a feat.

But if you need any testimony to what Besonen accomplished, a look at his 1981-82 season serves as a definite case in point.

The 5-foot-11 guard scored a still Upper Peninsula record 884 points that campaign, averaging 31.5 points a game. He scored 1,926 points in his career.

Ironically enough, he lost the U.P. scoring championship of Hancock’s 6-7 center Jack Carrel, who won the title in the last ten seconds of the season when his basket upset Dollar Bay.

Tom Caudill coached Besonen his entire career. He said that his ace was a complete player.

“He could handle the basketball, he could pass it and he certainly could shoot it,” said Caudill, who ended up with career 568-159 record in 31 years at Ewen-TC. “The best player I ever coached.”

Late Dollar Bay skipper Jim Bronczyk said Besonen was a top talent.

“He can do just about anything you ask on the floor,” the Bays coach said. “The kind of talent you don’t often find.”

Growing up in Trout Creek, a town of about 700 residents in southern Ontonagon County, Dave watched and heard about such cage legends as Jim Manning, Bob Gale and Bruce Knivila.

He practiced endlessly on a dirt court at home, often throwing the basketball at a nearby barn.

“Doing that gave me all kinds of different bounces (coming off the barn),” he recalled. “It was good practice.”

Joining the Panthers varsity as a freshman, Besonen was soon making contributions.

In 1981, he paced a 65-48 win over Dollar Bay before a record crowd of 3,501 at the Michigan Tech Development Complex. It still ranks a local record.

The Panthers made it to the regional finals before losing to North Dickinson.

Losing four starters from that team, Caudill didn’t expect a repeat the following season, although he did have Besonen back.

“We were going to be much shorter for one thing,” Caudill recalled. “Our biggest kid was only around 6-1.”

But Besonen kept his team going that season. They won the district with a tough 68-66 win over a good Baraga team that featured Daryl Putala and Lew Sawicky.

E-TC got revenge on North Dickinson with a 74-69 decision in the regional finals at NMU’s Hedgcock Fieldhouse as Besonen was voted tourney MVP.

Next up in the state quarterfinals was a towering (6-5, 6-6, 6-4) Harbor Springs team. Located just 10 miles from tourney site Petoskey, favored Harbor Springs filled the gym with supporters.

“That was a really tough atmosphere to play in,” Caudill said. “It didn’t faze Bessie, though.”

Behind 36 points and 10 rebounds from Besonen, the Panthers squeezed out a 76-69 victory. That advanced them to the next round, where they downed Mesick by five points.

Waiting in the finals at Jenison Fieldhouse was a tall, talented Covert squad, which defeated perennial power Detroit East Catholic to get to the finals.

Covert won the title game in record-setting (most total points in a championship game) fashion by a 105-94 score, throwing down 12 dunks in all.

But Besonen kept Ewen-TC in contention to the end by scoring 38 points. He fouled out late in the game and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Recruited by Michigan Tech coach Geof Kotila, Besonen sustained a severe knee injury late in his freshman season. He returned to play as a sophomore before injuring the knee again for good.

He averaged around 10 points a game in his shortened career at Tech.

The Panthers have continued to produce Besonens on their boys and girls teams. But Dave remains the most fabled of all.