Greatness seldom attained/Paul Peterson

You hear about great players at every level of sports.

But one of the most talked about nowadays is Lexi Gussert of Forest Park High School.

Gussert, a senior at FPHS, will almost certainly break the Upper Peninsula girls basketball career scoring record currently held by Allison Bailey of Ewen-Trout Creek High. And that will likely happen within the next few games.

Already signed up by Michigan State University, Gussert has that rare combination of size and athleticism (she was also all-state in volleyball) seldom seen in the U.P.

Bailey was a silky-smooth 6-foot pivot player who was equally adept with either hand. She totaled 2,131 points in her prep career and went on to play four solid years at Michigan Tech.

One of the few knocks on Gussert is that she isn’t playing against a higher level of competition in high school – a valid point with most players from up here.

But I can clearly recall Bailey accounting for 18 points and nine rebounds in her first home game against defending NCAA Division II champion North Dakota.

When asked how a player who competed in the Porcupine Mountain Conference a year earlier could play like that against a national champion, then-MTU coach Kevin Borseth had a simple answer.

“True talent always shows through,” Borseth said.

And talent – like the kind possessed by Gussert and Bailey – is seldom seen.

Only three players in U.P. girls basketball history have accounted for more than 2,000 points in their career. Krista Clement of St. Ignace also reached that level with 2,060 points.

One player who barely missed that mark was Shana (DeCremer) Ojala of Ewen-Trout Creek. DeCremer, who played at MTU and Northern Michigan University, totaled more than 1,900 points in her prep career.

Already inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, she gained All-American laurels in her senior season.

Perhaps the finest pound-for-pound girls basketball player I ever saw play was Sarah Stream of Westwood High.

Before knee injuries slowed her down in her final two seasons at Michigan Tech, Stream had the total package.

Certainly, she could score points. She totaled more than 1,400 points in high school and college. But she could pass, rebound and defend. Just as importantly, she made the players around her better.

I still remember the comment the coach of defending state Class C champion Inkster made after Stream almost singlehandedly won the game in the state semifinals, scoring 37 points on 9-of-19 from the field and 18-of-18 from the line.

“She was like the Energizer Bunny,” the coach said afterward. “She kept going … and going … and going.”

Of course, talent is the number one thing all of the above players had in common. And the same holds true for all-time U.P. boys greats (Dominic Jacobetti of Negaunee St. Paul, Jim Manning and Bob Gale of Trout Creek, Jim Hammerberg of Baraga, etc.)

But they all spent countless hours working on their game – they were gym rats.

That’s why greatness of their caliber is seldom attained.