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Prep boys basketball: Superior players earning their stripes

The red-hot Spartans have several players refereeing games for the Superior Basketball Association and gaining insight into the game.

Robert Olson, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, leads a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers team through the handshake line
Robert Olson, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, leads a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers team through the handshake line after reffing a game Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Superior High School.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — The Superior boys basketball team ran hard Friday.

The Spartans were up and down the court for nearly two hours going through plays, running drills and scrimmaging.

After senior captain Robert Olson finished hitting his 25 3-pointers and 25 free throws — the way coach Kory Deadrick typically ends practice — he and fellow captain Evan Bennett traded their practice jerseys for a different sort of challenge.

When the Spartans have a Friday night without a game, the pair pick up whistles and referee stripes to officiate games for the new “Mini-Ballers League” from the Superior Basketball Association.

Officiating first and second graders still learning a game is a different task than getting ready for another opponent.

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“The best we can, we try to teach them as much as possible because they’re not old enough to understand everything yet,” Olson said. “We try to give hints and tips and really just get them involved so they hopefully like the game.”

Bennett, who has been sidelined with a back injury suffered in the Spartans’ 82-55 win over Hibbing Jan. 25, said he and Olson have worked the score clock and done the scorebook at SBA games for years. He said officiating is something he wants to continue to do as a “side hustle” after his playing days are done.

“It’s a passion of mine,” Bennett said. “I want to continue to pursue reffing in my career. I like it because I can build relationships with players and teach them how to actually play the game.”

Emma Raye, right, a junior on the Superior High School girls basketball team, keeps an eye on the action as she refs
Emma Raye, right, a junior on the Superior High School girls basketball team, keeps an eye on the action as she refs a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Spartans officiating games isn’t just Olson and Bennett, seniors Shane Leask and Tanner Swanson spent Friday calling another game. In addition, girls players Emma Raye and Eva Peterson regularly officiate games for SBA.

Deadrick, in his first season as Superior’s coach, said officiating is a good way to get Spartan players involved with the youth program, especially with COVID-19 protocols limiting how much they can work with the youth program otherwise. The SBA starting the Mini-Baller League was a good opportunity after the Salvation Army ended its program in Superior for smaller kids.

Evan Bennett, left, and Robert Olson, both senior captains on the Superior High School basketball team, chat between quarters of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game
Evan Bennett, left, and Robert Olson, both senior captains on the Superior High School basketball team, chat between quarters of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“I like it in-house because then our kids get to work with those kids,” Deadrick said. With the reffing, they’re mentoring and we’re getting more kids to come watch our games and see what it takes to feel the energy. It’s a lot of fun and I think it hasn’t been something that has been pushed as much. There’s a group of parents and a good group of kids — myself included — that really want to see Superior basketball continue to get better. It’s excellent when these guys give up time to go ref after practice on a Friday.”

Kari Olson, the SBA president and Olson’s mother, said it’s vital to keep kids who grew up in the SBA or other youth programs involved.

“Here they are as high school kids and it’s like they’ve come full circle,” Kari said. “Coming back to ref is a way for them to give back. So many of these youth boys and girls come to the games and watch these kids. It’s really exciting for them to see these guys standing on the court with them and talking to each other. The kids really look up to these players.”

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An added benefit?

Deadrick said he thought officiating has had a benefit for his team that is starting to heat up at just the right moment.

“You learn a little bit as a player of where the refs are, where their positioning is, where they can see,” Deadrick said. “It’s helped them set up their game and you understand a little bit more when you get all the angles — from a coach, player or ref — and start to put it all together.”

The Tigers’ senior scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half of a win over the Spartans.

Bennett agreed there was a benefit to refereeing beyond working with younger players. Bennett has been a lights-out free throw shooter and went 18-for-20 from the line in a 76-70 win over Northwestern Dec. 14.

“When you’re reffing, you have to be in certain spots to see certain things,” Bennett said. “As a player you know where the refs are going to be, so sometimes you get away with stuff or know what to do.”

The Spartans have been on a roll the last few weeks. Since a 102-98 loss to Hermantown Jan. 15, Superior has four straight wins over New Richmond, Hibbing, Cloquet ad Duluth East.

Bennett said the Hibbing game was a turning point for the Spartans.

“We’ve been playing with a lot more intensity from the start and I feel like that’s propelled us to a lot better start and finish throughout the games,” Bennett said.

The senior guard is expected to be out for the Spartans' two games this week, but should be back for Superior's game against Menomonie Feb. 15.

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Superior’s Robert Olson (21) pulls up for a jumper
Superior’s Robert Olson (21) pulls up for a jumper in the first half of the Spartans' game with Duluth East on Monday evening, Jan. 31, 2022, in Superior. Olson finished with 24 points in the game.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Since Bennett's injury, Olson has upped his scoring. The senior had 32 in the 100-47 blowout at Cloquet Jan. 27 and 24 in the Spartans 79-75 win over Duluth East Jan. 31.

Superior (12-7) hasn’t won a first round playoff game in five years, Deadrick said, but believes the Spartans are primed to end that streak.

“I think these guys can do it,” Deadrick said. “We have enough pieces to beat anybody in our section right now. It’s just going to come down to execution and locking into whatever game plan or team we play, but they’re buying in right now.”

This article originally contained an incorrect last name for Tanner Swanson. It was updated at 1:10 p.m., Feb. 9. The News Tribune regrets the error. It was clarified at 6:22 p.m. to note that the Salvation Army youth program in Superior was suspended.

Shane Leask, right, a senior on the Superior High School boys basketball team, hands a ball to a player during the Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game
Shane Leask, right, a senior on the Superior High School boys basketball team, hands a ball to a player during the Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Players in the SBA’s Mini-Ballers league listen to Spartan basketball players and refs, Robert Olson, left and Evan Bennett
Players in the SBA’s Mini-Ballers league listen to Spartan basketball players and refs, Robert Olson, left and Evan Bennett before tip-off of the game Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Tanner Swanson, a senior on the Superior High School boys basketball team, refs  a game
Tanner Swanson, a senior on the Superior High School boys basketball team, refs a game during the Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers league Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at SHS.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Referee Eva Peterson, a sophomore on the Spartan girls basketball team, watches as Jude Miller throws the ball inbounds
Referee Eva Peterson, a sophomore on the Spartan girls basketball team, watches as Jude Miller throws the ball inbounds on opening night of the SBA Mini-Ballers league at Superior High School on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Evan Bennett, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, watches the action of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game
Evan Bennett, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, watches the action of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game as he refs Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Superior High School.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Robert Olson, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, watches the action of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game
Robert Olson, a senior captain on the Superior High School basketball team, watches the action of a Superior Basketball Association Mini-Ballers game as he refs Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Superior High School.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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