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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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My name is Megan Poe and I’m an English (writing concentration) and Philosophy double major at Northern. My concurrent experience with being published in and interning for literary magazines has landed...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Deirdre Northrup-Riesterer April 17, 2024

Come Together

The NMU men’s basketball team redshirted four freshman players last season. Of the four, three will be returning to next year’s squad: centers Jared Benson and Eric Hawley and guard Raymont McElroy.

The three athletes couldn’t be more different.

McElroy comes from the Milwaukee City Conference, while Benson and Hawley are Upper Peninsula high school products. Benson stands 6 feet 10 inches and has the ability to shoot the three, while Hawley, at 6 feet 8 inches is an athletic and gritty center who’s a standout on defense. In contrast to the centers, McElroy brings point guard flash to NMU and a leadership ability that’s been on display in off-season workouts and during practice.

Despite the differences, the coaching staff agrees on one thing: These three players are special.

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“That’s an incredible recruiting class,” head coach Dean Ellis said. “And nobody knows.”

As far as off-season work ethic goes, the results have been impressive. Both Benson and Hawley trained with Marquette’s Advantage Sports to increase their agility and stamina, and thus far both have made strides – Hawley put on 10 pounds of muscle, and Benson has both toned his muscle and gained the stamina needed to play center in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), Ellis said.

“Those three guys, you don’t even have to prod them to work hard, they’re just doing it. They just know they have to do it,” Ellis said. “That’s an incredible recruiting class sitting right there, and they’ve already got a year and a half under their belts from practice.”

Assistant coach Dan Waterman said these player all have made big strides.

After a 2008 season that saw the loss of a starting point guard and issues with depth, Benson, from Carney-Nadeau High School, Hawley, from Ontonagon, and McElroy, from Milwaukee South, will be looked at to play important minutes for the 2008 Wildcat basketball team.

Jared Benson
Benson, at nearly seven feet, is expected to be almost an instant impact next season. He comes to NMU after four years under C-N head coach Paul Polfus.

Polfus, who is also the father of NMU senior guard Mike Polfus, allowed Benson to shoot the ball from outside more than the average high school coach would, and Waterman said that’s helped Benson to become a very special player.

“At 98 percent of the schools anywhere, at 6 feet 10 inches, the high school coach is going to take him and put him on the block,” Waterman said. “Paul is a visionary. He does a very good job of utilizing his players’ different skill sets. If he’s got a big kid that can shoot, he’ll let him go out there and shoot.”

The NMU coaching staff said Benson has “NBA-range” from the 3-point line and that he dribbles and passes like a guard. In addition to an unlikely skill set for a center, Benson is also a confident player.

“I like guys that are cocky, border line arrogant,” Waterman said. “Because if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?”

According to Ellis, Benson has reason to be confident.

“He’s potentially one of the best inside players we’ve had in our program,” Ellis said.

Benson said his prep background in Carney-Nadeau was a big reason or his success.

“Basically the only sport we have is basketball,” he said. “We don’t have football or soccer – no baseball teams. So basically everything just revolved around basketball.”

He added that, while growing up, he always had the opportunity to compete with older players – namely Paul Polfus’ sons, Finlandia University product Jake Polfus and the aforementioned Mike Polfus. Mike is five years older than Benson, while Jake is eight years his senior. Benson also attributed his basketball knowledge to his father, who pushed both him and his sister to basketball.

His sister, Carly Benson, currently plays on the University of Michigan women’s basketball team.

One thing that Benson’s high school lacks, though, is a weight program – something the center has adjusted to since coming to Northern. Benson said, at first, his shot was affected because of all the weightlifting.

“I was lifting for a couple weeks, where we were going five or six times a week with no shooting at all,” he said. “But, when the season comes around, I think I’ll be able to come down the floor and hit threes.”

Waterman said that, once Benson gets stronger and becomes fully immersed in NMU’s system, the sky is the limit for him.

“I told him once we started workouts, ‘You’re not a freshman anymore. With the body you have and the skill set you have, you have the potential to play professionally overseas’.” Waterman said. “And it’s a four-year goal. You can’t decide to be mediocre for the next three years and then turn it on your senior year.”

Ellis said that, with this group of freshman players, he is impressed with how well they work together despite their different backgrounds.

“They couldn’t be from different places – Carney and Milwaukee?” Ellis noted. “There’s some major differences.”

Raymont McElroy
McElroy was approached by Ellis immediately following a showcase of high school talent in lower Wisconsin.

“He just stuck out to me,” Ellis said. “Having coached (former standout) Ricky (Volcy) for four years, Ray(mont)’s personality immediately reminded me of Ricky. He’s got that attitude that he doesn’t want to lose.”

In practice, McElroy has shown leadership uncommon by a redshirt freshman.

“Even this year, when it was him and the redshirts versus our first team (offense), he thought that he should be competing against the first team,” Waterman said. “And that attitude rubs off on the whole team.”

One player who the guard has rubbed off on is Benson, who says that McElroy has the ability to find him wherever he is on the court.

“I’m always looking at him and I know exactly where he’s going to be.” Benson said. “And he doesn’t have to look at me to know where I am on the court.”

Ellis said the combination of McElroy and Benson is much like the former combo of senior guard Jake Suardini and Volcy.

“Raymont and Jared are like that – and for four years, we’ll be very fortunate,” Ellis said. “They’ll have a riot playing with each other.”

Ellis went as far as to ask McElroy to sign the NMU trading card with his picture on it.

“I called him into my office, and sat him down,” Ellis said. “And I said, ‘Sign this baby. Because some day it’s going to be worth some money.'”

“His point guard knowledge and skills are as good as anybody I’ve ever had here,” Ellis, the 23-year head coach at NMU, said.

McElroy said, before committing to NMU, he was recruited by Division I teams, but settled with NMU because of Ellis’ coaching style and the campus community.

“I liked the atmosphere and I liked the players (at NMU). And that’s all that matters to me,” he said. “Division I, Division II, it doesn’t matter.”

According to Waterman, the final recruit of the class, Hawley is the best value.

Eric Hawley
“He’s a steal,” Ellis said about Hawley. “An absolute steal. We brought him in and it just jumped out how good of an athlete he is.”

Hawley’s defensive ability is the one aspect of his game that has been most impressive thus far.

“He’s made some plays that just stop practice,” Ellis said. “He’ll get to a block, he’ll get to a rebound. We just stop practice and say, ‘Wow. Where did that come from?'”

Hawley’s teammate, Tyler Kazmierkoski, said the center’s defensive ability has been impressive on more than one occasion.

“Last year, as a freshman, he was not only blocking my shots, but Darren Jones – as a senior – was getting his dunks blocked by him,” Kazmierkoski said.

“I just don’t want him to guard me on the scout team anymore,” he added. “Because I’m tired of getting my shot blocked.”

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