OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. - In his 30th year as head basketball coach at Whiteford High School, John Rice doesn't need a compass to figure out that additions from the north and the south have helped put his Bobcats on the map at 6-0 this season, and pointed them in the right direction toward the school's first Tri-County Conference championship in 14 years.
From the north, 5-11 senior guard/forward Bobby Plumer transferred in from conference rival Deerfield after leading the Minutemen in scoring the past two years at a 13.5 per-game clip.
From the south, 5-6 senior guard Anthony Miracola transferred in from Start in the City League after transferring to the Spartans a year earlier from St. Francis de Sales. Miracola played on the Knight varsity as a sophomore, and scored around eight points per game at Start before seeing his playing time cut late last season.
“Each of them has adjusted their game to my system,” Rice said. “In all the time I've been with Anthony he has done exactly what I wanted, except that he doesn't play real good defense. I've not restricted him whatsoever. He can handle the basketball like no player I've ever had.
“Bobby's an excellent offensive player, the leading 3-point shooter in our league the past two years. One of his stigmas from some other coaches in the league was that he never played defense. But here he's been one of our top defensive players and rebounders.”
Together the new Bobcats have provided more than half (36.3 points, 52 percent) of Whiteford's 70.5 points-per-game offense.
Miracola is averaging 24.5, including a 22-of-48 success rate (46 percent) from 3-point range, and has added 4.8 assists per game.
In his Bobcat debut at Emmanuel Baptist, Miracola notched 30 points. He has since added 34 and 27 points against Tri-County foes Sand Creek and Morenci, respectively, helping Whiteford to a 3-0 conference start.
Plumer - also one of Michigan's top prep golfers - has had a less spectacular impact statistically, but Rice has seen important contributions from the senior.
Plumer hit seven 3-pointers en route to 29 points in Whiteford's second game of the season, a win at Erie Mason. He is averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, and leads the Cats with 16 steals.
The new kids in town have provided a lift to senior front-court incumbents Joe Gust, a 6-1 forward, and Pat O'Mara, a 6-6 center.
Gust, the most productive returnee, is averaging 14.7 points and 8 rebounds; O'Mara is averaging 7.3 points and 6.7 boards. Junior guard Brandon Ybarra rounds out the starting five, and senior Matt Ringle is the sixth man.
Why did Plumer and Miracola leave their old schools?
Plumer's reasoning was simple. His parents - Toledo radio morning-show personality Norm Plumer (known on-air as Bob Kelly) and wife Linda - moved from the Deerfield district to be closer to Toledo. The Plumers purchased the home of former Deerfield basketball coach Don Gilson, who coached Bobby in his freshman and sophomore seasons on the varsity.
“I welcomed the opportunity,” said Bobby Plumer, whose Deerfield team went 15-6 (10-4 Tri-County) last season. “It was tough leaving my friends from back there, but I've made a lot of new ones, and they've accepted me here.”
Miracola's journey was a little more complicated.
He left St. Francis after his sophomore year, citing academic difficulties. That was the same year current Waite coach Joe Suboticki resigned his Knights post. At Start, Miracola says he simply did not fit in well at the school or within former coach Bob Brown's system.
Miracola said he moved to the Whiteford school district with his mother, Faye. Father Nino Miracola still resides in Toledo.
“My mom wanted me to get out of there,” Miracola said of Start, which went 3-15 last year. “I like it here. It's been real good. I've had to step up my game because he [Rice] is actually letting me play. The other [former] coaches wouldn't let me shoot or do what I wanted to do. Coach Rice gives me a lot more freedom. I feel like I was let loose.”
Rice has gained and lost via the transfer route throughout his 420-252 tenure at Whiteford, which has included Tri-County titles in 1980, '82, '83, '87, '88 and '89.
The Bobcats lost three-year starter Gary Carter (1,046 career points) to Scott in 1983-84, and the transfer helped the Bulldogs to the Ohio state semifinals. Before that, Jerome Pierce (father of current Libbey starter Jerome Pierce) transferred to Scott after averaging 13.8 points per game for the Cats in '77-78.
On the plus side, Whiteford got Barry Jones, a senior transfer from Indiana who led the Bobcats to their last league title in 1988-89 averaging 24.7 points and 11.4 rebounds a game. Also, Whiteford's career scoring leader, Eddie Sharpe, scored 1,693 points (26.4 career average) in three varsity seasons after attending Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central as a freshman in 1994-95.
Rice said his most recent newcomers have added much to Whiteford's success while not disrupting the team's chemistry or morale. Their arrival, in fact, has enabled the coach to switch to the more up-tempo pressure defense/transition offense style he prefers.
“They fit in real well and the other kids have accepted them,” Rice said. “I said to them [returning players] that some people are going to have to swallow their egos somewhat and everyone's going to have to share the ball and understand their roles. They have all done that. I have no problem with any animosity toward one another.”
In golf, Plumer earned first-team All-Michigan honors his sophomore year at Deerfield and again this past fall at Whiteford.
During the summer, he finished fourth in the 72-hole Toledo Amateur at Detwiler, scoring 73-67-68-70 and recording his first hole-in-one.
“I knew coming in here that there were three or four guys on this team who could score 30 points in a night,” Plumer said. “So, I knew I wouldn't be getting as many shots. But as long as we keep winning like we have, I'll sacrifice. I'll take `the team' over `me' any day.”