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Wildcats, Lewis closing in on Huskies

January 9, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

It would be easy to judge the early goings of the Doug Lewis Jr. era via wins and losses.

You could track his progress with the Northern Michigan University men's basketball program by monitoring his movement up and down the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference standings.

The best measuring stick for Lewis, however, may lie 100 miles to the north in Houghton with Kevin Luke's Michigan Tech men's hoops team.

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Matt Wellens

The Huskies and Wildcats pull their fair share of athletes from downstate Michigan and the state's Upper Peninsula, however, their bread and butter recruiting grounds have become the state of Wisconsin.

Currently the Huskies ride the dominance of Windsor, Ontario's Ali Haidar, however, the future star power of the Huskies will come from sophomore Alex Culy of Rice Lake, Wis., sophomore Austin Armga of Waupun, Wis., and freshman Ben Stelzer - who hails from my former stomping grounds in Manitowoc, Wis.

Currently seven of the 17 players on the Huskies' roster hail from the Badger state and five of the seven are averaging over 24 minutes a game. After Haidar, the next six leading scorers hail at Tech all hail from Wisconsin.

Like Luke, Lewis is also raiding Wisconsin of some its premiere talent. Having been born and raised in the state - Lewis and Milwaukee Rufus King went 24-0 in 1984 en route to a Wisconsin state championship - the second-year NMU coach knows very well what others are passing up.

Five of the 14 Wildcats on the 2011-12 roster currently hail from Wisconsin, however, only one plays right now - Haki Stampley - and he's been a major force in the GLIAC as a freshman.

The 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard from Milwaukee's Alexander Hamilton High School is averaging 16.2 points per game and showing tremendous versatility filling in at point guard for fellow freshman and Wisconsin native Quinten Calloway while the Milwaukee Marquette University High School product recovers from a leg injury.

Next year, Lewis brings in two more Milwaukee-area natives in Matthew Iverson and Stephen Pelkofer. Iverson and freshman Derek Hussinger of Waukesha, Wis., will be expected to step in for senior big-men Jared Benson and Rashano McRae while Pelkofer will have to pick up where senior DeAndre Taylor left off.

So what I'm saying is, in two years, the starting 10 for Northern and Tech could exclusively come from Wisconsin.

That's where the difference ends between the two squads, though.

For those of you who know your Wisconsin geography recognize both coaches are recruiting from entirely different areas of the state, but it's not only a difference in geography, but philosophy and success.

Luke's recruits in Northeast Wisconsin play a style that is influenced by former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin basketball coach Dick Bennett and now the former Wisconsin-Platteville, former Wisconsin-Milwaukee and current Badgers' coach Bo Ryan.

It's slow, it's timely, it's precise and heavily defensive.

It's been known to put fans to sleep or force them to pull their hair out, but it wins games.

Lewis' recruits from the greater Milwaukee area grew up with Bruce Pearl at UW-Milwaukee and Tom Crean coaching Dwyane Wade and Marquette to the Final Four.

Crean's philosophy is in tune with not only the style of play Lewis preaches - pressure defense and an up-tempo offense - but with what many coaches in the Milwaukee City Conference execute.

It's a style of play that Luke and the Huskies know is tough to contend with, especially when a program has the athletes - like Stampley - to run it.

"They are getting better," Luke said about the Wildcats following Thursday's 70-64 win in Marquette. "They are working hard and switching up their defenses and they are athletic. That level of athleticism gives us some tough times."

Lewis is winless against Luke in four meetings thus far, but as Thursday night showed at the Berry Events Center, the Wildcats are quickly closing in on the Huskies.

In the Wildcats' three previous meetings with Tech, Luke and the Huskies pounded them by a combined score of 260-198, or an average margin of 20 points.

Luke seems to know the first four meetings with Lewis will not be the norm in this series, and eventually - having scouted many of Lewis' recruits while scouting his own - Luke knows the Wildcats will be joining the Huskies in the upper echelon of the GLIAC soon.

Players like Stampley and Calloway from Milwaukee have made a living in Wisconsin off of beating up on the kids to the north like Stelzer and Armga at the sectional and state level of postseason play.

Now it's up to the Stampleys and Calloways to produce at the collegiate level, to not only make the Huskies regret ignoring Wisconsin's biggest city, but to send a message to the Horizon League's Panthers and Phoenix as well.

You all missed out.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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