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Talent-rich Owls proving tough for opponents to stop

News Photo by James Andersen Oscoda’s Drew Hess (21) drives by Alpena’s Tucker Bright for a layup during a boys basketball game on Saturday at Alpena High School. Hess is one of two former Mio players to join the Owls and has helped the Owls to a 4-0 start to open the season.

Sometimes Oscoda boys basketball coach Mike Poland has to pinch himself when he looks at this season’s roster.

Yes, the Owls really do have that much talent.

The program received a huge shot in the arm over the summer when Drew Hess and Brennon Mills–who both played for Mio the last three seasons–joined Oscoda’s squad.

Put together with Oscoda’s returning starters from last season–Gavin Lueck and Owen Franklin–and senior Caleb Nagel, the Owls are arguably the team to beat in Northeast Michigan this season.

“It’s great. Sometimes I pinch myself. They’re two fantastic kids and they come from a good program. They spent the first three years over in Mio and I feel very fortunate that their families chose to move to Oscoda,” Poland said. “They’ve been well-coached, their fundamentals are good…they’re just really, really fundamentally sound.”

With the addition of the ex-Thunderbolts, the Owls have a starting five reminiscent of an all-star team. Franklin was an AP Division 3 all-state first team selection last season and Hess was an honorable mention on that same list. Both of them have also scored more than 1,000 career points.

Franklin and Hess were also first team all-North Star League selections last season and Lueck was a second-team choice.

Mills, while not an all-league or all-state selection, averaged nearly 10 points a game last season and has scored more than 10 points in two of Oscoda’s three games this season.

Added all up, it’s a tough quintet for opponents to stop and a team that can beat opponents from just about anywhere on the floor. Hess and Franklin are two of the area’s best long range shooters, Nagel is a capable scorer, Lueck is a dominant rebounder, and Mills can score from inside or from mid-range.

Role players like Michael Gepfrey and Brendan Apsitis have proven to be more than capable of shouldering some of the workload as well.

“It’s amazing. It’s a whole different ball game,” Hess said. “We get so many more looks, we have more freedom on offense, defense, it’s overall a better experience.”

Entering Wednesday night’s game against Rogers City, the Owls were 4-0 and prohibitive favorites to win the North Star League’s Big Dipper division title. The Owls started the season with a 50-29 win over Rogers City, but gained momentum toward the end of last week with dominant wins over Midland Calvary Baptist and Alpena.

For the past two years, Mio and Oscoda have played some close games while battling for the Big Dipper title. Now the former rivals turned teammates are enjoying the experience of playing together.

“Those are my boys. They’ve been my boys for years and it’s a dream come true playing with them,” Franklin said of Mills and Hess. “I love it.”

The Owls certainly have goals they want to accomplish this season–a conference title and postseason hardware are part of that list–but they’ll get there in good time, Poland and Franklin said, by taking the season one game at a time.

Though the playoffs are barely a thought right now, the Owls will undoubtedly be looking to settle some unfinished business when the postseason arrives.

Two seasons ago, Oscoda lost in a Division 3 regional final and they had a shot at returning to regionals last year before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season during districts.

“For sure, but at the same time we’re definitely taking it one game at a time, taking care of our business every night and just doing everything we can to get better every day,” Franklin said.

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