Former Northfield Mount Hermon School basketball player Spike Albrecht became an overnight sensation a week ago during the NCAA Division I men’s national championship game in Atlanta, Ga.
The Michigan freshman guard entered the game as an afterthought, averaging 1.8 points per game coming into the title game. That’s not surprising given that he was the backup point guard on a team with a starter named Trey Burke, the consensus National Player of the Year and likely lottery pick in the upcoming draft. Conversely, Albrecht is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, looking more like a kid you might see in chess club than on the basketball court. Albrecht averaged about eight minutes a game this season, taking only 41 shots.
So when he suddenly lit it up against Louisville, it became a major story. Burke was forced to the bench early on when he got into foul trouble and Michigan coach John Beilein called on Albrecht, who responded with the best game of his young collegiate career.
Albrecht, whose first name is really Michael, scored 17 first-half points to help the Wolverines take a 38-37 lead at the break. Social media was abuzz throughout the first half (with 46,000 tweets about Albrect taking place in an hour span), when many people were trying to figure out exactly who this Trey Burke backup, was.
I was driving home in my car during the first half, listening to the game on the radio and listening to the announcers gush over Albrecht, who wound up shooting 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, 6-for-9 overall en route to the 17 points, shattering his career-high of 7 points (done twice this season, including in the Wolverines’ Elite Eight win over Florida).
While many were sitting at home marveling over this unknown kid, NMH coach John Carroll was not. Albrecht came to the Gill-area school as a postgrad last winter and helped lead the Hoggers to the New England Prep School Athletic Conference championship. Carroll said that while 17 first-half points was extremely impressive, he was not surprised that Albrecht was performing at the elite level.
“The thing was, he was ready,” Carroll said. “He works hard in practice and he was ready to play. We were waiting all season for a chance when Burke got in foul trouble. When he got the opportunity, I wasn’t surprised that he performed so well.”
Albrecht had already been playing well in the postseason, knocking down all five 3-pointers he’d attempted in the first five tourney games. That helped him score 19 points in those five games, which might not sound like a lot but seems impressive when you consider that he had scored a grand total of 48 during the 33-game regular season. Carroll said the big stage didn’t affect Albrecht, who, during the NEPSAC title-game victory over Brewster Academy, finished with 23 points and nine assists against just one turnover, helping him earn MVP honors. Coincidentally, in that win over Brewster, Albrecht went up against Mitch McGary, who happens to be his Michigan teammate.
“I think what separates Spike is his upbringing,” Carroll said. “He is extremely modest, extremely humble. He’s a typical Midwest kid from Indiana, and everything he has achieved has come through hard work. His modesty and humility means that he takes nothing for granted and he’s grateful for every opportunity.”
Albrecht didn’t score a second-half point and the Cinderella Wolverines came to a screeching halt when Louisville rebounded for an 82-76 victory. Who knows what Michigan will become next season? Burke is leaving for the draft, a blow to the team that could mean more playing time for Albrecht. Carroll said that regardless of his role, he’s confident Albrecht will deliver.
“Everyone was surprised by Spike’s level of play that night,” he began. “Not me. That night, Michigan needed a scorer and Spike scored. When he was with us, it was like that. Whatever hole you had, he would fill it. If they needed everyone to get touches that night, Spike could have passed the ball around.”
While Albrecht was getting plenty of on-court attention following the loss to Louisville, he was also drawing plenty of interest for his game off the court.
That night Albrecht saw supermodel Kate Upton wearing the blue and gold of Michigan in the stands at the game so he turned to Twitter afterward and joked: @KateUpton, hey saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again.
Carroll said that Albrecht was always a funny kid and that he texted Albrecht on Tuesday morning about the incident and his former player was laughing about all the attention it was getting.
“He said, ‘How funny is this,’” Carroll said of his response. “Spike was really funny, he kept us on our toes and always had us laughing. He’s a kid at heart who’s just having a blast.”
While Albrecht has gotten much of the attention, there was another NMH player in the house that night, Louisville’s Mike Marra.
Marra began his high school career in Smithfield, R.I., where he spent three years before coming to NMH. He redid his junior year and played two years for the Hoggers, where he was ranked among the top 50 guards in the country by ESPN, averaging 19.2 points per game as a junior and 15.3 points per game as a senior. Marra wound up choosing to attend Louisville (passing up Notre Dame, Providence, Rhode Island and UMass), and he went in with high expectations. At the time, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Marra was the best high school shooter he had ever seen, and Carroll conferred, saying he is certainly among the best-ever at NMH.
“Mike was one of the most prolific scorers this school has ever seen,” Carroll said.
Marra played in 27 games as a freshman and averaged 3.1 points per game. He then played in 31 games as a sophomore and averaged 6.4. Then, as a junior, Marra tore his ACL in the second game of the season and did not play another game that year. This year Marra was set to make his comeback, but 20 minutes into the first practice of the season, he blew out his ACL a second time, ending his career.
This story has a happy ending. During senior night this season, Louisville took on Notre Dame and Pitino made Marra an honorary coach, going so far as to allow Marra to sit in his seat and putting Marra in charge of calling timeouts. Marra will stay on the coaching staff next season and serve as a graduate assistant, and many have him becoming another possible coach from Pitino’s coaching tree.
We also had a local connection on the Yale men’s hockey team that won the NCAA Division I championship on Saturday.
A pair of former Deerfield Academy hockey players are team members. Senior forward Antoine Laganiere assisted on the second goal Yale scored and had a solid season, finishing with 15 goals and 14 assists to place third on the team in scoring with 29 points. He will sign with an NHL team this week. One of the leading contenders appears to be the Vancouver Canucks.
Sophomore forward Alex Ward did not appear in the championship game but played in seven games this season, not registering a point.
I spoke with OPP Promotions Monday afternoon about the Lamonakis mixup. Lamonakis actually landed on Thursday afternoon, so that was inaccurate in Monday’s story. I was also told that anyone wishing to watch the fight can do so at OPPboxing.com. The video was supposed to go up last night.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.