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Warriors Athlete of Week: Russell is ‘The Guy’ for Warriors

Brainerd Warrior Michael Russell brings the ball up the floor against Willmar. Kelly Humphrey/ Brainerd Dispatch

With the graduation of four Brainerd Warrior starters from last season, much of the scoring responsibility for this season has been thrust on the shoulders of Michael Russell.

The senior guard has responded.

Through 10 games, the 6-foot-3 Russell is averaging 21.4 points per game. He has scored 20 points in seven games. Included in his offensive output was the 1,000th point of his career. Russell is one of only 11 players in program history to score 1,000.

“It’s pretty special because not a lot of kids have done it,” Russell said.

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Michael Russell

  • Sport: Basketball
  • Position: Guard 
  • Year: Senior
  • Age: 18
  • Height: 6-foot-3
  • Career highlight: Scoring 1,000th career point against Willmar
  • Grade-point average: 3.3
  • Favorite class: Math
  • Favorite food: Pizza
  • Favorite TV show: “ESPN SportsCenter”
  • Hobbies: Playing basketball
  • Future plans: Attend college, hopes to play basketball
  • Favorite basketball player: Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Parents: Jim and Nancy Russell

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Warriors’ coach Scott Stanfield said some people think it’s easier to attain 1,000 in today’s game because of the 3-point line, teams play more games and games are longer.

“That may be true,” he said, “but kids today see different types of defenses, there’s more high-pressure defenses, changing defenses, and kids are being chased more. With the 3-point line, some say it’s easier.

“I say it’s harder because if you’re a good shooter, you’re guarded now from 25 feet in instead of from 15 feet in. With all the arguments that people make, it’s still really quite an accomplishment. And, to do it 8-9 games into your senior year is a pretty good job.”

Last season, Russell and post Kobe Ahonen shouldered much of the scoring load. But Russell is the player opposing teams focus on stopping now.

“We had a lot of options last year for scoring,” Russell said. “This year, I’ve taken more of a scoring role. But I like passing, too. I was Mr. Assist last year on the team. I like to hit the open guy.”

Stanfield said Ahonen posted many games with 20 points and 10 rebounds last season. He said Russell will get his points, but that’s not the only thing the Warriors are relying on him to provide.

“Now we need his other numbers to rise, and they are, which is fun to see,” Stanfield said. “We need everything out of him -- to score, to rebound, to dish out assists, to get steals, to be a leader on defense. That’s a full plate and Michael’s adapting to that.

“Last year, Michael kind of fit in behind Kobe, Chris Pederson and Jack Geraets, the seniors, and he was more of a complementary player although he scored a lot of points last year. This year, he’s the guy.

“Other teams do a lot of things to take him away, but he battles through it. As the season goes on, we’ll be able to run more sets to free him up or use him as a decoy and free up teammates and that’s the goal.”

Stanfield said Russell strives to be more than just a scorer.

‘I think sometimes he gets tired on offense because he gets chased so much and his defense has suffered from time to time,” Stanfield said. “But when we need someone to guard the other team’s best player it’s been Michael. That will continue to be the case when we have to get stops and that’s what’s going to happen because he’s one of our best on-ball defenders.

“He’s also plenty capable of rebounding. In all areas, he’s improved a lot.”

As a freshman, Russell saw some varsity time. He was an occasional starter as a sophomore before becoming a full-fledged starter the last two seasons.

“When he came up as a ninth-grader, his skill set was that of a junior or senior in high school,” Stanfield said. “He’s always had skills. Now that he’s a little stronger and a little smarter, he’s capable of doing everything a complete basketball player does and we see flashes of that from time to time.

“What we have to do is encourage Michael -- he’s a quiet kid by nature -- to be more vocal and he’s starting to do that. I thought (Willmar) was the best all-around game he’s played in quite some time as far as communicating with teammates and getting everyone involved and still scoring 20-25 points. People think that’s an automatic thing for kids to do, but when you’re that young, and you’ve got to do everything well, that’s hard for kids at this age.”

Russell has thrived this season despite playing with many new teammates, players who have replaced last year’s seniors. Brainerd is 4-6 overall entering Friday’s home game against St. Cloud Apollo.

“It’s going pretty good,” Russell said of the season. “We’re fairly young. We don’t have a lot of experience. It’s good for them to play at this level.”

Russell is one of the team’s captains, along with Michael Bieganek and Cody Christensen.

“For Michael, this is the first time he’s stepped on the court with his teammates, outside of Bieganek,” Stanfield said. “He’s got about nine kids he’s never played a game with. It has been frustrating at times trying to mesh everyone together. But you could see it come together in practice.

“Michael came to us and we had a nice conversation about how we are moving ahead with the young kids, what’s the best way to communicate with them. It was good to see he stepped out on his own and communicated those things to us.”

Other notable efforts by Warriors:

• Evan Storbakken, boys Nordic skiing, won at Fergus Falls and was runner-up at Detroit Lakes.

• Olivia King, girls hockey, stopped 11 shots in a shutout vs. River Lakes.

• Michael Bylander and Preston Owen, swimming, each won one event and were on two winning relays vs. Tech.

• Chad Orsburn and Logan Theodore, wrestling, won titles at the Cambridge-Isanti Invite.

• Matt Allord, floor hockey, had two goals and two assists vs. Robbinsdale.

• Tre’Von Otey, floor hockey, had a hat trick vs. Rochester.

• Cody Vleck, floor hockey, stopped 30 shots vs. Rochester.

• James Engen, boys hockey, stopped 26 shots in a win over Bloomington Jefferson.

• Kylee Heurung, girls basketball, had 16 points and 11 rebounds vs. Cambridge-Isanti.

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MIKE BIALKA may be reached at mike.bialka@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.

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