By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
Basketball is all about scoring points and stopping teams from scoring.
Gage Kreski of St. Ignace is one of those rare players who excel on both ends of the floor.
Kreski eclipsed a 51-year-old Upper Peninsula scoring record this season while also establishing himself as a defensive ball hawk. That production helped him become Associated Press Class C Player of the Year in Michigan. He was also a three-time Division 7-8 all-state football selection.
Kreski finished his four-year basketball career with 2,178 points, surpassing the mark of 2,140 points set by Dom (Duke) Jacobetti of Negaunee St. Paul from 1962-65. Kreski also became his school's all-time points leader, topping Krista Clement's 2,060. Steve McDonald was the previous boys pace-setter with 1,972.
Just two years ago, Lexi Gussert of Crystal Falls Forest Park became the all-time girls – and overall – scoring leader in the U.P. with 2,630 points. Allison Bailey of Ewen-Trout Creek had set the previous girls mark of 2,131 points in 1996.
"I was not focused on the record," Kreski said recently while on spring break in Panama Beach, Fla. "My goal was to make it deep into the playoffs."
The Saints (17-4), however, were upset by Boyne City in their Class C District opener.
A 6-foot-3, 195-pound point guard who frequently took his defender inside, Kreski scored 519 points this season. His career points will rank 15th on the MHSAA's career list for that category.
On defense, he set an MHSAA record with 450 career steals (Matt Taylor of Pinckney had 363 through 2000). Kreski also set a single-season record of 137 steals this school year and pulled down more than 900 rebounds during his career.
"I like scoring points, but defense is more important and I liked it a little more because I had to do the job," Kreski said, noting coach Doug Ingalls is a stickler about defense, highlighted by frenetic full-court pressure. "Defense first for sure.You play all-out on defense the whole game and the offense goes from there."
Ingalls also runs an offense similar to what he played under his dad, Jack, at Gladstone High School, using a motion approach – or perhaps freelance to a degree.
"We don't have many sets, but we know how to play basketball," Kreski said.
"For us to be good, he had to score a lot. It was all about winning for him," said Ingalls.
Ingalls admitted Kreski's weakness was shooting, but that he made up for it with a sterling overall game. "He has great instincts and is a very, very good athlete," said Ingalls. "I would get on his case because sometimes he was not aggressive enough going for steals. He has the length, the quickness and is savvy. He can guard anybody.
"He gets to the bucket and gets his points in many different ways. I can't imagine anyone being a better all-around basketball player. He is so good at making the right decision. He passes as well as anybody.”
At a time when perimeter scoring is stressed more and more – think of Steph Curry and other potent sharp shooters – Kreski made fewer than 35 shots beyond the 3-point arc this season.
That was drastically different than the method used by Jacobetti, whose career ended more than 20 years before the 3-point shot was adopted. A wing guard for three years before replacing his graduated brother at the point for his final season, Jacobetti's normal shot was from the perimeter, and usually well past today's 3-point arc.
He estimated perhaps 70 percent of his field goal attempts were outside that line, yet he unbelievably converted about 85 percent of his shots. "I shot basically from outside," Jacobetti said.
During his era, many small-school gyms were tiny, with well below regulation-sized floors that allowed offenses to get the ball into scoring range quickly. The feet of spectators often were on the playing floor, and at some gyms the base line was painted on the wall while the three jump circles were often intertwined. Jacobetti pointed out, "You didn't have much room to run an offense."
In his first game on the varsity as a freshman, Jacobetti scored 22 points and did not miss a field goal or free throw. He averaged about 12 points as a freshman, and then raised it to 22, 28 and 32 points per game, respectively, over his final three seasons.
Asked about a potential career behind the arc, Jacobetti said he has not really thought about it much because it wasn't part of the game at that time. "Wherever you had a shot from, you took it," he said of a fairly simple yet very effective approach.
Jacobetti finished three points ahead of Trout Creek legend Jim Manning, who finished his ended in 1961 with 2,137 points. Jacobetti's career ended in a tournament loss at Pickford and he recalled a Sault Ste. Marie sportswriter informing him after the game that he had just set the Upper Peninsula scoring record.
"I was shocked. I had no idea (about the record)," he said, noting it was not a big deal at the time, perhaps because it was only four years old. "It wasn't talked about a great deal."
Jacobetti only remembers one time in his career when scoring was stressed. His coach at the time, Gordy LeDuc, told him the offense would run through him in a game at Negaunee's Lakeview Arena. Just a night earlier, Pat Groleau of Nahma scored 48 points and LeDuc said, "Duke, tonight you're going to break the record."
Jacobetti scored 52 points, but he said, "I didn't feel comfortable because everybody was giving me the ball."
Jacobetti and Kreski share the same idea about basketball. Jacobetti said, "It was win or lose, not really about the points." Kreski, in a telephone chat about 30 minutes earlier, said, "I just tried to win the game. It (McDonald's record) was a goal but winning was first, and for us to win games I had to score a little bit."
He knew about McDonald's mark, obviously, but didn't learn about Jacobetti's record until he was within about 300 points. "It was not the most important thing on my mind," he said.
He said Ingalls told him, "We're not going to do anything that we normally don't do. If it happens, it happens."
It happened Feb. 27 when Kreski produced a single-game best 46 points against Pellston.
While Jacobetti's record lasted 51 years, Kreski's could be erased next season. Jason Whitens of two-time defending Class D champion Powers North Central has already amassed 1,409 points. Whitens scored 623 points this season.
"Records are made to be broken," said Jacobetti. "I never expected it to last as long as it did. Give that kid a lot of credit. I am very happy for him. He sure put in a lot of work and a lot of time. It is quite an accomplishment. I realize what it takes. I put in hours and hours myself (much of it on outdoor courts during winter with snow banks towering around the surface), and I know he did."
Ingalls confirmed that opinion. "I'm disappointed that other varsity basketball coaches didn't have the chance to coach him. They would be amazed at how hard he works.
"That work ethic comes from his parents. His dad Paul played football at Northern Michigan University, and his mother Deanna was a basketball player at NMU and was named to the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
"I have good genes, I guess," Kreski said, noting how both parents have put in time helping him pursue his hoops career. "They never really forced me to play or go work out. They made sure I had a positive attitude and (knew) how to be a good man.
"They have just been awesome in my life. They have had a great impact."
He said Ingalls "has been the man. He did everything for me, and my parents have been there for me all the time. Doug's wife (St. Ignace girls basketball coach Dorene) has pretty much raised me."
Kreski will finish his basketball career at the U.P. All-Star Classic in Marquette on June 18. He will put all his athletic focus on football when he reports to Central Michigan University as an invited walk-on in August. The all-state football player (he played quarterback and defensive back for the Saints) will likely play safety but could also become a wide receiver.
"My body is a little better suited for football," he acknowledged. "To be a point guard in Division I (basketball) you have to be 6-4 and be extremely lightning quick. I'm quick, but not lightning quick."
Just as he has adopted a sensible approach to his athletic future, knowing where he fits and where he may not, Kreski did everything he could to help the Saints before worrying about his personal achievements.
"I'm extremely proud of him and happy for him. I will follow his career at Central," said Jacobetti, who hopes to meet Kreski at the U.P. All-Star Classic.
Top five U.P. boys basketball scorers
2,178 - Gage Kreski, St. Ignace, 2012-2016
2,140 - Dominic Jacobetti, Negaunee St. Paul, 1961-65
2,137 - Jim Manning, Trout Creek, 1957-61
2,086 - Bob Gale, Trout Creek, 1962-66
2,010 - Jim Hammerberg, Baraga, 1992-96
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTO: (Top) Gage Kreski pushes the ball upcourt during a game against Pickford in 2015. (Middle) Dom Jacobetti was the previous Upper Peninsula career scoring record holder. (Top photo by Paul Gerard; bottom courtesy of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame.)
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.