DETROIT — After some past baby steps, Lake Orion High’s boys basketball program flexed its wings and soared off into success this season.
The Dragons won a regional championship for the first time in school history before falling March 20 in a Class A state quarterfinal 46-40 to Macomb L’Anse Creuse North at Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy.
“After coming off a three-win season last year, what these guys did this year was incredible,” Lake Orion coach Tom Risi. “It’s our first step in building a program at Lake Orion, making Lake Orion something special. This is a great first step.”
Lake Orion finished 16-10 overall.
“The bottom line is, it was a great season, and I’m very proud of the kids,” the coach said.
Just two seniors saw major minutes for the Dragons, who will look to take another big step next season bolstered by the experience they gained this postseason.
“Our first seven guys, we’re playing with two seniors and the rest are juniors and sophomores,” Risi said. “So we have a young team, and hopefully, they grew up a little bit tonight.
“We’ve built a foundation, and we’re hopefully going to continue next year,” the coach continued. “We’ve got a lot of youth, a lot of youth played tonight. They played all year.”
Risi noted that the program is plenty stocked with up-and-coming talent. He said the JV and freshmen teams also had stellar seasons, winning their respective division titles.
“I’m hoping that this is the start of something special for the next few years at Lake Orion,” the coach said. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. We’ve got some real talented kids. We’ve got a lot of talent coming up.”
Sophomore John McCarty is one of the promising young talents in the program. He led the Dragons with 16 points in the quarterfinal.
“It was a big run. It was a lot of fun, too,” McCarty said about the postseason experience. “No one really expected this out of us. We really came together as a unit. We started playing better toward the end of the season.
“This is big, because a lot of our guys, our key players, are underclassmen,” he said. “We had a lot of really good seniors this year, but we’ll be able to fill in guys from lower classes and they’ve had this experience now, and they know what it takes to get here and possibly go farther, too.”
There will be some big shoes to fill, though, as seniors Justin Walukonis, Brad Watterworth, Mitchell Caldwell, Sean Charette and Jason Henry move on from the squad.
Walukonis and Watterworth will especially be missed according to Risi, as the pair was significant contributors.
The coach hopes that the returning players retain their hunger for success as they look to replace their leaders.
“Now that people get to this point of the playoffs, they get hungry,” Risi said. “Once you’ve been here, you want to get back. And now these kids understand what it takes to get here.”
“We have a taste of success, and hopefully, they’ll want to get it next year.”