After the Jan. 20 67-66 win against Hillsdale College, Mike Polfus left the men’s locker room of the PEIF with his gym bag slung over his shoulder. It was a sight that had become all too common since Mike came to NMU two years ago. Since his arrival, Mike has been a staple in the Northern gymnasiums and weight rooms.
He has played basketball every chance he could and can be seen working out nearly as often.
When Mike left the locker room that night, he was leaving not simply as a PEIF member, but as a member of the NMU basketball team-a fact apparent because of his team-issued sweatpants.
For Mike, who hasn’t played organized basketball in two years, just wearing the warm-up gear of NMU is a dream come true. And without the help of his longtime friend and current NMU basketball teammate, Ryan Reichel, Mike’s dream may have remained just that-a dream.
According to Reichel, during the wedding of a mutual friend, he was asked by Mike’s father to get Mike into shape. After playing collegiate basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette for the 2004-2005 season, Mike had admittedly gotten a bit overweight.
“He wanted him to drop 25 pounds, and I said, ‘How about I have him drop 20?'” Reichel said.
Mike’s father, Paul Polfus, agreed to Reichel’s proposal and now-two years later-Mike has lost nearly 25 pounds.
“When I got to Northern, I was easily 25 pounds heavier and Ryan helped me work out,” Mike said. “I wouldn’t be in any kind of shape if it wasn’t for him.”
Reichel said that Mike spends hours in the gym now, and described his long-time friend as a “gym rat.”
“When I leave the gym from working out, Mike’s always the one right behind me,” Reichel said.
Mike’s father Paul is the varsity boys basketball coach at Carney-Nadeau, and organizes several basketball tournaments throughout the year, including the tournament where Reichel and Mike first met as eighth graders.
“After the game, he said to me, ‘Man, I’ve never had anyone guard me like that before,'” Reichel said. “We’ve been friends ever since. And each year we’ve gotten closer and closer.”
During the year, Reichel said he spends approximately 20 weekends with the Polfus, where he has become like another son.
Reichel even plays in basketball tournaments with Polfus’ father.
“Last summer, I think I played in more basketball tournaments with Mike’s dad than Mike,” Reichel said. “In one tournament, we ended up beating Mike’s team in overtime. I was playing with all the old guys and we ended up beating the young guys.”
After playing basketball in 2004-2005, Reichel didn’t go out for the team the next year. This season, though, he got the itch to play again.
Mike also got the itch too and attended the walk-on tryouts for the NMU team. After the end of the tryout session, Mike wasn’t offered a roster spot. Then, when starting point guard Chris Warner went down, the Wildcats were in need of another player. Reichel said he wanted to be the one to tell Mike the news.
“I was hoping it would work out for him, because if it didn’t, I don’t know what he would have done,” Reichel said.
NMU head coach Dean Ellis said it was a no-brainer to put Mike on the squad after the injuries to the team.
“He tried out, and when we were down to only nine players, we obviously needed another point guard,” Ellis said.
It took a while to determine if Mike was eligible to play.
“He had been to four different schools, counting Northern, so we didn’t know what his eligibility status was,” Ellis said. “He caught on a rule where he hadn’t played for two years and, no matter what your situation is, if you’re non-participatory for two years, you’re eligible no matter what.”
After the eligibility issues were ironed out, there was the problem of getting Mike some equipment.
“Coach Ellis had to go out on the day after Thanksgiving and find shoes for Mike in Duluth,” Reichel said.
Reichel said it wouldn’t matter to Mike if he had a new pair of shoes or not.
“He’s got travel gear that’s too big for him and he’ll wear it everywhere, just because he can. Mike’s playing because he wants to. You could give him an old pair of shoes and he’d wear them, just as long as he could play.”
Ellis said Mike was able to adapt to the team’s scheme quickly, partly because his father is a basketball coach, and also because of the experience Mike has playing basketball.
“Mike’s been fantastic in learning and understanding what he needs to do out there,” Ellis said. “His basketball savvy is exceptional; I guess when you play a million tournaments in the Carney gym, you figure out how to play the game. He’s going to step up and be a factor for us during the year.”