2017-03-30 / Sports

Sophomore sensation tops 2017 Dream Team

Okerlund, four juniors capture all-county distinction
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

In one offseason, Xander Okerlund went from “snub” to “superstar.”

County coaches and the Enterprise sports staff tabbed Okerlund as the 2017 Leelanau Enterprise Boys Basketball Dream Team MVP last week after the smooth-shooting sophomore led Glen Lake to an 18-win season and a District 91 championship.

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard narrowly missed the cut on last year’s six-member squad, finishing seventh in Dream Team voting.

This season, Okerlund captured three of six possible first-place votes.

“Made a huge jump from freshman year because of his hard work in the offseason,” Glen Lake coach Rich Ruelas said. “Never tried to do too much. Very smart player who became our go-to guy much of the year.”

Glen Lake (18-5, 13-3 Northwest) leaned heavily on the level-headed jump shooter, and that was particularly the case in big games. Okerlund put up 26 points in a 61-50 win at Elk Rapids, 29 points in a 63-60 home loss to Class D runner-up Buckley and a career-high 32 points in a 75-60 district final win at St. Francis. He reached double figures in all but two games—blowout home wins over Mesick and Benzie.

He placed second among all county scorers with 18 points per game while pulling down 4.8 rebounds, distributing 2.2 assists and swiping 2.1 steals.

“He’s not a very vocal person but he leads by example really well,” said Glen Lake teammate Cade Peterson. “He’s obviously a very good offensive threat, but he does it with a quiet confidence. He doesn’t say much but he does his job and does it well.”

Peterson, a versatile 6-foot-5 forward, did the same. He finished fourth among county scorers with 14.9 points per game and paced the peninsula in rebounds with 9.3 a night.

The junior also dropped 1.7 dimes, posted 2.0 steals and swatted 1.7 shots, on average, and finished the season with a county-high 11 dunks.

“He is a great athlete who made highlight plays on a nightly basis,” Ruelas said.

The same could be said of Leland guard Garett Miller, perhaps the most feared scorer in the county this winter. Miller garnered four second-place votes after capturing the county scoring title with 24.1 points per game.

He was good from the get-go, pouring in 19.3 points in his first seven games. Then, after a six-point performance in a 77-21 loss at Buckley, “Miller Time” began.

“After that six-point game, I was just like ‘that’s not going to happen again,’” said Miller, one of two Dream Team returners. “From there, I don’t know.

“I just went off.”

Miller averaged 28.1 points in his last 13 games, eclipsing the 30-point plateau six times for the Comets (5-16, 2-14 Northwest). Double teams and lock-down defenders didn’t seem to slow him down, either. He scored 18-plus in all 13 of those contests.

He also averaged 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 3.1 steals as a junior.

“There’s just something about him,” said Peterson, who was asked to name the opposing player he respected most on the peninsula. “He was the motor to their team, and he had guys keying on him the whole season.

“Every game he put up impressive numbers, especially scoring, and he was a cool guy to play against.”

The only other returner on this year’s all-county team is Thomas Hursey, who landed one first-place vote after scoring 16 points per game and leading Suttons Bay (14-11, 7-9 Northwest) to a District 118 championship.

Like Okerlund, Hursey had a monster performance in his team’s district final appearance on March 3. Hursey poured in a career-high 34 points as the Norsemen upset Frankfort 59-57.

“He’s pretty good,” Miller said of Hursey, who went 3-0 against the Comets this winter. “It’s hard to cover him all over the court because he’s always running around.”

Junior point guard Austin John, who rounded out the county’s list of top-five scorers with 10.3 points per game, is the lone Dream Team representative for Northport (15-4, 6-0 Cherryland).

John reached double figures in 11 of 19 contests for the Wildcats, who surrendered just 30.8 points per game under coach Dave Ginsberg.

“Our defense was stellar,” said John, who scored a season-high 17 points in a 36-32 home win over St. Mary. “We kept to what our coach told us to do.”

John will be one of five starters back in the Northport lineup next season— and one of five Dream Team honorees hoping to capture all-county distinction once again in 2018. Suttons Bay junior Garrett Shananaquet, the “snub” of this year’s team, will look to do the same.

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