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Boys Basketball Preview

CLOQUET -- Cloquet senior Dillon Johnson is your typical catch-and-shoot, right-handed basketball player. Standing and shooting around, though, isn't the same.

CLOQUET -- Cloquet senior Dillon Johnson is your typical catch-and-shoot, right-handed basketball player. Standing and shooting around, though, isn't the same.

That's exactly what the Cloquet senior was doing last week when the Lumberjacks opened basketball practice, as Johnson continues to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee after injuring himself playing his favorite sport last May.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound starting forward, may be the deadliest sharp-shooter around, especially considering the fourth-year varsity player's miraculous game-tying three-pointer before the buzzer against rival Hermantown in the playoffs a season ago -- which hit the Internet immediately.

Immediately following Monday's two-hour practice, Johnson went to Cloquet's Park Avenue Fitness to work out and continue his five-, sometimes six-days-a-week therapy sessions. Afterward, he was honest about being sidelined.

"It sucks having to watch," Johnson admitted. "All I have my mind on right now is getting to play basketball."

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Basketball is the only sport Johnson plays, year-round, thus classmate Maxx Brenner noted the loss hurts.

"It's tough to see him on the sidelines," said Brenner, a starting guard. "We've all played since fourth grade, so it's weird without him there. We can't wait until he's back."

Cloquet will look to get back to the Section 7AAA championship this season, a game the Lumberjacks lost 64-58 to six-time defending champion Grand Rapids -- and returning Division I prospect Alex Illikainen -- a season ago.

Seasoned center Adam Laine is one of the few to bang with Illikainen in the paint, as the 6-foot-7, 245-pounder averaged a double-double last year and will lead a Lumberjacks team that finished 19-10, a game short of state.

"Everyone feels we have a chance to make a run at it again this year," said Laine, who will be aided by forward Zach Gerlach and guards Brenner, Jake Bushey and Nate Weets, within a depth-laden cast for Coach Steve Battaglia.

"We have 10 guys in the mix right now," said Battaglia, entering his ninth season in Cloquet. "I like our chances."

Meanwhile, Battaglia said the chances of Johnson returning by Christmas or the New Year is likely.

"He loves it," Battaglia said. "He's always doing some kind of basketball drill he's not supposed to be doing."

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Standing and shooting, for now, seems to be his favorite.

AREA PREVIEW:

Barnum brings back top scorer Brandon Newman, while father, Rich, enters his 17th season as coach. The Bombers, 26-4 and Section 5A finalists a year ago, now bump to 7AA.

Carlton could struggle this winter, as scoring leader Erik Adams graduated from the 12-14 Bulldogs. In his third year, Coach Adam Bailey said Dom Bennett is the only returnee.

Cromwell-Wright will need time to heal, as 20th-year Coach Bill Pocernich said both Tyler Hakamaki and Hunter Rauvola have football injuries in returning to the 10-15 Cards.

Fond du Lac Ojibwe oozes with experience, as the 18-8 Ogichidaa return all five starters and threats Trevontae Brown and Davonte Williamson under third-year Coach Earl Otis.

Moose Lake-Willow River resumes beneath Coach Neil Dickenson, in his fifth season, as the 16-11 Rebels will rely on big Ezra Szczyrbak inside and Matt Mach in the backcourt.

South Ridge returns four starters, including Dom Janke, as third-year Coach Carl Grussendorf said Kody Karppinen is also back from a broken collarbone for the 15-9 Panthers.

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Wrenshall will look to new Coach Troy Powers, 48, as the former assistant replaces the longtime Joel Swanson. Jared Kittel leads the 10-14 Wrens, who roster only upperclassmen.

FDLTCC features local scoring options in Carlton's Erik Adams and Wrenshall's Pat Gustafson, but have begun 0-4 for Thunder Coach Damien Paulson, now in his third season.

Related Topics: BASKETBALLCLOQUET
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