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Prep boys basketball season preview: North Woods' Goggleye opening eyes

North Woods forward Tate Olson (15) passes the ball as Minneapolis North guard Isaac Johnson (35) reaches out to block him in the second half of the 2017 Class A state title game. (Minneapolis Star Tribune file photo)

When it comes to college recruiting, North Woods boys basketball coach Will Kleppe knows the cards are stacked against small-school hopefuls.

“The exposure is a little harder to come by,” Kleppe said. “You have to do something pretty incredible to get on their radar.”

How ’bout ringing home a half-court buzzer-beater to win a state-tournament quarterfinal? Or scoring 62 points in about 25 minutes of work?

Cade Goggleye did the former last March at Williams Arena, propelling the Grizzlies into the Class A semifinals and, eventually, the title tilt. The latter came in North Woods’ season opener Nov. 30, when the junior point guard showed off an expanded skill set and tormented South Ridge for a point total that ranks among the top 10 all-time in Minnesota. Because the Grizzlies were so far ahead en route to a 116-27 victory, Goggleye sat the final 11 minutes.

Cade Goggleye

Expect similar outbursts throughout the winter, which will assist North Woods’ bid for a repeat of last year’s 31-win, state runner-up success. They also will help Goggleye catch the attention of college programs, no easy task when you play at a tiny school located north of the Iron Range.

Don’t get the wrong impression: Goggleye won’t force shots just to pad his stats. His strength may very well be distributing the ball. But he’s a scorer, no question.

“His ability to score is a huge part of what we got going on,” Kleppe said. “When it’s available, he’s going to take advantage of it. When it’s not, he’s going to move the ball where it needs to go, creating matchup difficulties.”

Said the 6-foot-1 Goggleye, who averaged 18.1 points as a sophomore: “I’m confident I can score if that’s what the team needs.”

He admits that doing so in bunches will make it easier to get recognized. It’s an unfortunate reality of playing in the smallest class. Former Lakeview Christian Academy scoring machines Anders and Bjorn Broman can attest to that.

“There’s kind of a feeling that if you’re from a smaller school, the competition isn’t as high,” Kleppe said. “It’s not always the case that it’s not as competitive, but I guess from a recruiting standpoint you really have to light the buzzer in order to draw some attention.”

Goggleye prefers setting up his teammates. He added 6.2 assists per game last season, many of the no-look, where-did-that-come-from variety. Defenders, and his fellow Grizzlies, have to be ready at all times for one of Goggleye’s quick-release shots or bullet feeds.

“You always have to be on your toes,” senior forward Tate Olson said. “You never know when it’s going to get thrown right at you.”

Olson scored 15.3 points a night as North Woods reached its first state tournament. Indeed, the top-ranked Grizzlies are in an enviable position. They bring back four starters — all but George Bibeau — and will mix in several talented underclassmen. Plus, Minneapolis North, the team that overwhelmed North Woods 96-49 in the state final, is now in Class AA.

“I think maybe everyone in single-A is happy to see them move up,” Kleppe said. “Level the playing field a little bit. That was a pretty monumental task to match up with them.”

Goggleye recorded his 1,000th career point in a Dec. 5 win at Bigfork. Kleppe has heard from college coaches, who will keep tabs on the up-and-comer. For now, Goggleye is concerned with helping North Woods remain atop Section 7A and return to Williams Arena in March.

“We want to get there again, and we all believe that we can do it,” he said. “That’s our main focus this year.”

  • Standing in the Grizzlies’ path back to Minneapolis are perennial section contenders Mountain Iron-Buhl, Ely and Chisholm. While the Rangers lost Jaylon Holmes, who averaged 23.1 points a year ago and finished with a program-record 2,707, Josh Isaacson and Brody Bissonette, they return juniors Justin Holmes and Joe Buffetta.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, have three starters back from a squad that went 19-8, including senior Carter Gaulke (17.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game last season) and sharpshooting junior Patrick Vanderbeek (16.9 ppg), who made a school-record 129 3-pointers last season, with 12 coming in one game.

Late start at Cloquet

While most teams had played at least a couple games by Dec. 5, Cloquet was enjoying its second practice with a full squad. The byproduct of having so many football players on the roster — 13, to be exact. They were preoccupied with carrying the Lumberjacks to the Prep Bowl, which was contested Nov. 24, a week after basketball practice began.

Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia was willing to overlook the tardiness.

“Some people might say we’re behind the eight-ball, but I’ll trade state-championship experience for a week in the gym,” Battaglia said.

Fortunately for the Lumberjacks, Ashland and North Branch agreed to push back scheduled contests. They finally tipped off Tuesday vs. Hermantown. Another bit of good news? Battaglia has 12 seniors, an “unprecedented” number, and one that means the coach didn’t have to start from scratch. They know the system, so the focus was conditioning. Basketball legs, Battaglia called it.

“We’re going to run a cross-country practice for a week, taper into the weekend and hopefully be ready to go on Tuesday,” he said.

Bryce Turnbull, a versatile 6-4 big man, scored 14.6 points and grabbed 6.1 rebounds a game as a junior. Spencer Wehr (10.4 ppg), Tyler Moose (9.4) and Tim Pokornowski (9.0 rpg) also were healthy contributors. Cloquet will benefit from the return to health of Riley Johnson, a senior forward who missed all of last season with a knee injury. He was All-Lake Superior Conference as a sophomore.

Elsewhere in Section 7AAA, defending champ Grand Rapids has holes to fill after Jake Skelly and Brock Schrom graduated. Skelly, the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year, averaged 21.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting a robust 59.7 percent from the field. Schrom was good for 15.3 points and eight rebounds a night. Nate Seelye, a senior guard, scored 15 points per game a year ago, when the Thunderhawks went 24-7.

Hermantown is looking to replace All-LSC performer Nate Soumis (16.3 ppg) and Leo Corradini. Seniors David Birkeland and Noah Soumis and junior Connor Bich all started last winter. Senior Kevin Bauman is off to a fast start for the Hawks, averaging 16 points.

  • At Duluth East, 6-9 center Cody Carlson (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) graduated and is playing at Concordia-St. Paul. He headlined a strong group of seniors that contributed “90 percent of our production in each statistical category” as the Greyhounds went 16-12 in 2016-17, coach Rhett McDonald said. East will be young this time around, with a roster full of underclassmen, including juniors Kaleb Rock, Isiah Hendrickson and Niikan Buffalo and sophomore Noah Winesett. Look for the Greyhounds to embrace an offense-by-committee approach.

“In order for us to be successful, different guys will have to step up each night, we will have to outwork teams, take care of the basketball and compete on the glass,” McDonald said.