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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2012

Anthony Wayne working to end league title droughts

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mark Donnal, a 6-foot-9 junior who has committed to play at Michigan, is averaging 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. The Generals haven't won an NLL title since 1998. Mark Donnal, a 6-foot-9 junior who has committed to play at Michigan, is averaging 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. The Generals haven't won an NLL title since 1998.
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Bryan Borcherdt is nearly halfway through his first season as Anthony Wayne's boys basketball coach and the Generals are already thinking about something they haven't done in a long time.

AW hasn't won a Northern Lakes League title since the 1997-98 season.

The Generals are 6-2 overall, 5-2 in the NLL, their best start in many years.

Although falling Tuesday at Napoleon, Anthony Wayne had a significant league victory last week, knocking off Perrysburg 71-54 at home.

Yet, the Generals coach began the week reminding his young team, which has only two seniors, about keeping everything in proper perspective.

"We've been fortunate enough to start out the season well," Borcherdt said. "But I wrote on the board in the locker room: If you're thinking about what you did yesterday, you haven't accomplished much today.

"So, we've got to put the past behind us and we've got to focus on the next game."

Considering the time it's been since theGenerals havet won a NLL title, it can be a challenge not to become too excited about being in contention.

"We could do better, but we're improving compared to last year's team," said Grant Fiock, a 6-foot-4 junior, who averages 10 points and is one of three Generals averaging in double figures. "All in all, we're enjoying it and we're out there having fun winning."

The Generals, 8-13, 4-10 in the NLL last year, weren't among the teams predicted to be serious contenders for the championship. Borcherdt has just two returning letter winners.

However, the first-year coach came in and began working on more than just basketball skills.

"The biggest thing is getting your players to believe they can do things they don't think they can do," Borcherdt said. "Part of that has to do with preparing them properly. They have to know going into a game what their roles are and what they have to do. I think once they do that, that's half the battle."

Perhaps no one on the team has bought in to the new approach more than Mark Donnal, the 6-9 junior who is already committed to the University of Michigan. The league's top post player is averaging a team-high 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds after averaging 15 points and seven boards last season.

Donnal, who probably receives more double-teams near the basket than any other player in the NLL, is sinking 79 percent of his shots from the field, as well as from the foul line.

"Mark has been a big asset for us, there's no doubt about that," Borcherdt said. "He's been very effective. He takes good shots. He's a good free-throw shooter. He's making other people around him better."

Sophomore Matt Fox, a 6-foot guard, and Fiock have probably benefited the most from playing on the perimeter while Donnal draws attention near the rim. Both are averaging 10 points.

Fiock said Donnal's presence on the floor creates offensive options for the Generals that most other teams can't copy.

"You can always look in to him," Fiock said. "He's always there for you if you do get stuck with the ball. It's nice having him around because you can always just lob the ball in to him."

However, Borcherdt believes Fiock and Fox benefit Donnal with their ability to make jump shots.

"They're basketball players," said Borcherdt. "They've put a lot of time into it. They're committed to our program and they're very coachable kids. They do whatever you ask them to do.

"They seem to feed off each other. On one night, one of the players has a good game and another night, the other one does. That's important."

But perhaps the most important thing during Borcherdt's first season is putting his hand print on trying to turn around a program.

"He's just made a lot of changes that I really like," Fiock said. "He's brought the community into it. We have bigger crowds and we've changed our work ethic."

Borcherdt, 39, teaches seventh-grade science at the middle school and has been a fixture in the district for more than a decade.

He even coached Donnal and other juniors when they were in the eighth grade. That eighth-grade team won the NLL title.

"It was an advantage to know the community and know the things we wanted to change," Borcherdt said. "The biggest thing we wanted to change around here was the culture.

"We had a really great off-season and they worked really hard. We started putting in our system and the kids are buying in and they're getting excited and the community is getting excited."

Winning a league championship would certainly add to the excitement.

"We definitely have a lot of potential," Donnal said. "We just have to put it together for the last half of the season. We have to play all four quarters as a team.

"I think if we do that we have a good shot at winning the NLL."

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @demmonsblade.



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