Dream Team member: Calumet’s Matt Ojala among UP’s best

Eddie O’Neill/Daily Mining Gazette Calumet’s Matt Ojala is presented with a game ball after scoring his 1,000th career point during a game against Hancock. Joining him in the photo are (from left) Jen Peters, principal, and Mike Ojala, coach.

CALUMET — Last season, despite being a leader on a very good Calumet Copper Kings squad as a junior, Matt Ojala earned Class ABC First Team honors while having the numbers that put him in the conversation for the Dream Team. This year, the senior leader of the Copper Kings back court earned a spot on the U.P.’s top team.

Coached by his father, Mike, Matt, along with his twin brother, Travis, played well enough to help get the Copper Kings to the Division 3 District 65 championship game, where they ran into an undefeated Iron Mountain squad, who beat them, 71-41, during their march to the state title game.

This season, Matt was perhaps best described as the “straw that stirred the drink” for the Copper Kings. He averaged a team-high 19.3 points per game. He also averaged 8.3 assists, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game as well.

His 8.3 assists led the entire U.P. His assist-turnover ratio was 8-2.

Considering the offense flowed through him, Matt’s turnover average of two was impressive.

“When you look at the stats, he led the team in all four major categories,” said Mike Ojala. “It was the second year in a row that he led the U.P. in assists.”

The 6-1 guard racked up 27 points against Ishpeming late in the season. He put 26 up against Gwinn.

Matt had two triple-doubles during the season and five double-doubles. While several players throughout the U.P. put up double-doubles, some multiple times, what made Matt’s accomplishments stand out was the fact that his double-doubles were not points and rebounds, but rather points and assists.

“Most of the time, when you see those, they are big kids who get points and rebounds,” said Mike. “I think that is a credit to Matt and how he was never the kid that just kept forcing himself to score or look to score.”

Even though Matt set a new school record in scoring with 1,378 career points, there were times he clashed with his father and coach. Matt did not look to be the one scoring. Instead, he tried hard to find open teammates or those who were shooting well on a given night.

“He could have averaged more points in any of these years,” Mike said about Matt’s ability to score. “There were games where we butted heads. There were times in games where I was looking for him to just score, just go.

“When he felt that other kids needed to get hot, or were hot, he just kept delivering the ball. That is just the way he was.”

Teams oftentimes try to use multiple players to drive their offense. Mike praised Matt’s ability to handle being the focal point throughout every game he was healthy for as he worked hard to make sure that everyone got involved by being as unselfish as possible.

“He was unique in the fact that the ball was in his hands all the time for us,” said Mike. “He’s done that for a couple of years, but it was even more evident this year. It was in his hands to get whatever kids involved that he needed to get involved.”

The other aspect of his game that Mike noticed Matt worked to hard to improve throughout his career at Calumet was his defensive play.

“Matt was guarding the better players on these teams,” said Mike.

Other members of the Dream Team included Foster Wonders and Marcus Johnson from Iron Mountain, Reese Castor from Gladstone and Marius Grazulis from Marquette.