At first glance, the Western Basin Toledo Cavaliers AAU basketball team did not make the greatest impression on Jeremy Pratt.
Pratt, who will be a senior at Waite this fall, was recruited to play for the Cavaliers this spring by Genoa native Arnie Sutter, who has coached local AAU teams for 13 years.
“When I first saw the guys I thought, ‘I’m not going to like this,’ but it was great,” said Pratt, a 5-foot-10 guard. “It was a great brotherhood. The friends you make in AAU ball, the memories ….”
The Cavaliers competed in 17-and-under tournaments beginning in mid-March through the end of May. Sutter, 66, who has coached for more than 30 years, including a stint at Elmwood, was the Cavaliers’ head coach and was assisted by Richard Honner, who coached at Genoa in the late 1960s.
“Coach Sutter is a great coach,” Pratt said. “He’s high intensity at times and he lets you play your game at times. He’s old school. (He wants) five passes before the shot. Playing AAU just showed me some of the things I need to get better at. We wanted to win, but I wanted to focus on things I needed to get better at, like shooting the deep ball and decision making.”
The Cavaliers’ roster included high school players from Oak Harbor, Genoa, Woodmore, Waite, Rossford, St. John’s Jesuit, Northview, and Margaretta. They played in seven tournaments and had some successful results.
“Ideally if you make the finals you play five games, so that’s 35 games,” Sutter said. “You’re in a pool, and if you win one or two games in that pool you have a chance to move on, either in the consolation bracket or the championship bracket. The first two tournaments, we didn’t do well. We were trying to find ourselves, but we got better and better.”
The Cavaliers made the consolation finals in one tournament and also took fifth place, fourth, and third at other tournaments.
“Our last tournament we made it to the last four and got beat,” Sutter said. “I think we were about .500. I keep good stats on kids and try to promote efficiency and what you do out there. We weren’t concerned about scoring averages and that stuff. I was more concerned about efficiency.”
Sutter played high school ball at Genoa under Honner, who coached the Comets from 1966-68. Honner, 75, also coached at Owens Community College, at Start High School and in Sylvania.
“I kept in contact with him ever since I graduated from high school (1966),” Sutter said. “Genoa was his first head coaching job, and we only lost three games his first year there. He was really close with the kids (this season) and had fun. You could tell he really enjoyed being an assistant, because he didn’t have too much responsibility other than keeping the kids motivated and teaching some defense.”
Pratt said he and his teammates had a great rapport with Honner.
“He’s a great guy,” Pratt said. “He liked to joke around and he always makes me laugh. He’s old school. He knew a lot of stuff and offered a lot of information on every situation. He taught us how basketball relates to life.”
The Cavaliers used Woodmore’s gymnasium to conduct practices.
“They were generous,” Sutter said. “The athletic director (Steve Barr) and the school secretary (Angie Balduf) were just awesome. They were generous in allowing me to work around their schedules. I also have a great group of parents.”
Pratt’s teammates included Noah Goodridge and Jordan Brennan of Genoa, Alec Young and Andre Ramsey of Oak Harbor, Drew Lewandowski of Woodmore, Oregon resident Kyle Blausey of St. John’s Jesuit and Nick Stowers of Rossford.
Sutter said Pratt, who played both guard positions, “was our sixth man and really carried the load when we needed some scoring and tough defense. He’s a good leader.”
The 6-4 Goodridge, who will be a senior at Genoa, was the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, rebounder and free throw shooter. Goodridge made three tournament all-star teams during the season.
“Noah played for me two years ago and played pretty well, and I liked his attitude,” Sutter said. “He was pretty close to 10 rebounds and 10-12 points a game this year. He can shoot really well from the outside. He wants to be a coach and a teacher, and I like kids who have goals like that. He knows what he wants.”
Brennan, a senior, came off the bench for the Cavaliers and had a role as a defensive player. Lewandowski, a senior, was the team’s third-leading scorer.
“Drew was probably one of the better shooters on the team,” said Sutter, who added that Young, a junior, became a valuable inside/outside contributor.
“He came off the bench and was an excellent role player, inside and outside,” Sutter said. “He just developed throughout the year.”
Ramsey was a “penetrate and kick” point guard who also played great defense, according to Sutter.
“He was our starting point guard and one of our best defensive players,” the coach said. “He’s really a heady player. He was an extension of me on the floor. The better we got as a team, the better he got. You could always depend on Andre doing the right thing.”
The 6-5 Blausey was the Cavaliers’ second leading rebounder and “a real key to our inside game,” Sutter said.
“He was one of our starters and probably the most athletic player on the team,” Sutter said. “He needed a lot of refinement, to learn to slow down. He had a couple of real good tournaments. When he and Noah were playing well, we were tough to beat.”
Sutter said he was proud of the fact that, despite not being together very long, this year’s Cavaliers developed as players and as people throughout the season.
“We got better every tournament and we peaked at the end, which was our goal,” he said. “We’d always like to win a few more games and get some more (trophy) hardware, but we’re not in it for all that stuff. It’s all about team chemistry and developing their roles. We started to click midway through the season, and these kids were really open to coaching.”