Ribel's Return Sets Up TC Central for 2nd-Half Rebound, Postseason Push

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

January 19, 2024

Best of three.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat’s the perspective Traverse City Central’s varsity basketball team has as the Trojans travel to play undefeated Cadillac tonight. And really, they have the same vision for most of their Big North Conference opponents as they reach midseason.

Central has hopes of getting in two or more wins against those rivals with a third meeting likely coming during the postseason. Central also is hopeful of getting to play those conference and postseason games with their leading scorer Anthony Ribel healthy and in the line-up.

Ribel missed the first seven games this season with a foot injury, including an opening day 68-33 route by the Vikings on the Trojans’ court. He will be in the line-up this time – and the Trojans are a much more confident and experienced team than they were in the first meeting.

Cadillac is entering tonight 10-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big North. Central, 2-8 but coming off its highest-scoring game in 15 years (a 94-50 victory over Alpena), owns a 2-3 league record. But the Trojans haven’t given up winning the conference title just yet. Ribel’s injury occurred at practice just three days before the season opener, and since returning he has averaged 30 points per game. 

“Cadillac beat us pretty bad,” second-year coach Ben Fischer acknowledged. “The guys are very motivated to show them how we play Trojans basketball.

“Anthony is a big addition – it goes without saying,” he continued. “We’re a much different team offensively and defensively than we were before.”

Last year, the 6-foot-3 Ribel broke the junior-season scoring record at Traverse City Central previously owned by Dan Majerle, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, made three all-star teams and helped the U.S. Olympic team to a bronze medal in 1988. Ribel scored more than 600 points and also eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark during his junior campaign.

Despite missing the first third of this season, Ribel has a shot at Majerle’s career scoring record of 1,388 points. He started this winter with 1,133 career points after joining the varsity as a freshman.

Ribel elevates for a jumper.Ribel recalled how he struggled through Cadillac’s lopsided win in the season opener while sitting the bench. Cadillac dominated the inside game, and Ribel is confident that will change tonight.

“When you lose at home by that much, it is embarrassing,” Ribel noted. “We have a lot of extra motivation.  

“We’re less worried about what they can get from outside — we’re more worried about what they can do inside,” he continued. “We just have to take over the paint the best we can.”

Ribel led the way with 25 points in the Alpena win. The Trojans also got contributions from Owen Ribel (20 points), Brendan Slack (12 points), EJ Maitland (10 points), Jaden Clark (10 points, five assists), Jack Potgieter (nine points, eight rebounds) and Ethan Rademacher (five assists).

“We’re starting to find our stride.” Fischer pointed out. “Guys are getting a lot more dialed into their roles. We have relied on a lot of guys who didn’t have much experience coming into the season. Now they know they can go out there and compete having played some really good teams already.”

Slack is averaging 11.2 points per game and Maitland is contributing 10.1. Potgieter and Anthony Ribel are collecting six rebounds per game. Maitland and Potgieter kick in more than two assists.

Owen Ribel, only a sophomore, is also making a big mark for the Trojans. He’s thrown down a few dunks and had the 20-point effort against Alpena.

Owen and Anthony are the sons of past Trojans standout Ryan Ribel, a key team member of the last Central team to win a Regional, back in 1996. As a junior that year, Ryan Ribel averaged 17.5 points per game.

This season’s potential District opener opponents include the Big North’s Gaylord, Alpena, Petoskey and Traverse City West. Marquette also is in the District. The Trojans have wins over Alpena and Petoskey and lost to Gaylord and West the first time around. Anthony Ribel’s second game back was against West. He scored 19 points, but the Titans prevailed 64-59 with some strong free throw shooting down the stretch. Cadillac is a possible Regional opponent.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Trojans will look forward to every rematch that comes their way as they hope to win all of their best-of-three series – of even sweep them.

“We’ve got a really good group of young men who are hungry to compete,” Fischer said. “Our biggest goal is to win Districts and hopefully Regionals. We’re getting a little bit better every single day.”

Anthony Ribel agreed.

“My teammates were put in some uncomfortable positions to start the year,” he said.  “I think it will benefit us for the rest of the season. 

“Getting the chemistry back with each other is going to be important,” he continued. “We need to string some big games together with all of us healthy, and make a good run.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Traverse City Central’s Anthony Ribel, left, gets to the basket during his first game this season, against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Jan. 2. (Middle) Ribel elevates for a jumper. (Photos by Rick Sack, TC Rick Photo.)