Boys basketball: Red-hot Rebels winning on, off court
If you were to walk into Wes Cummins' boys basketball practice last week in Willow River, it wouldn't have looked like your traditional 10 players going up and down the court.
Rather, multiple mini-courts were being used in the spacious gymnasium as all of his Moose Lake-Willow River players — student-managers included — were vying for the annual "Cummins Christmas Clash" 2-on-2 tournament title.
The 12-team, double-elimination event was simplicity at its finest. Players picked their teams, coaches officiated and everyone was involved. All in all, 25 games were played, roughly 20 pizzas were eaten and the senior-sophomore tandem of Carter Klund and Brady Watrin were the champs.
In the final against senior Adam Dragicevich and freshman Phillip Sheetz, Watrin recalled the sidelines were packed with loud-rooting Rebels as the last game heated up.
"It got pretty intense toward the end," said Watrin, who along with Klund, won seven straight games to claim the trophy that Cummins will later award at the team's banquet.
That banquet is hoping to be later than in seasons past, as this winter, the young Rebels are the real deal.
Winners of five of their past seven games — including their latest over visiting Braham 67-48 on Thursday, Dec. 20 — ML-WR (7-2) has the second-highest winning percentage of the 16 teams in Section 7AA, while they've already beaten arch-rival Barnum and then-No. 6 ranked Rushford-Peterson.
"I think some teams are starting to look at us," said Mason Olson, one of three sophomore starters, along with Watrin and Carter Johnson, to go with Dragicevich and junior Ben Dewey. "I think we'll be in there in March."
As does Cummins, now in his third season, noting he plays about 10 guys per night, allowing for ample depth, in-game options and, most importantly, daily competitiveness.
"We can put a guy in and the talent level doesn't drop off," Cummins said. "It's a nice insurance policy, but it also allows us to play the brand of basketball we like to play."
From freshmen to juniors, sophomores to seniors, they all play for Cummins. In fact, against basketball tradition-laden Braham last week, Johnson scored 14 points, Watrin 13 and the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dragicevich 12 in the 19-point win.
Not to mention Olson's game-high 17, just two weeks following his career-high 33-point outburst versus Barnum.
"I give a lot of credit to my coaches and teammates," Olson said. "Without them, I don't know what would happen."
Olson said most of the team has been playing together since third grade. And while they may still be young, that chemistry has only grown over time as the Rebels are proving that age has nothing to do with winning.
"We've got a lot of guys who can play," Watrin said. "We just got to get better every day."
That shouldn't be hard, as Watrin and Co. are enjoying themselves both on and off the court playing for Cummins.
In addition to the yearly 2-on-2 event, the 31-year-old Cummins keeps up with his Twitter account, often tweeting photos, videos and game updates.
Each Wednesday, the student-managers participate in drills with the players, while earlier, on a nearly four-hour trip south to Rushford, Minn., teens played Uno together on their phones.
"We like to just have fun, but at the same time, get better," said Watrin, who's winless at Uno. "I love it. It's a ball."