By Nate Thompson
MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – After nearly every one of his games, Orchard View sophomore guard Ke’ontae Barnes receives constructive criticism from his uncle, Lamond Austin, a man who has played a big role in helping him develop his skills.
“He’s got high expectations for me,” Barnes said after a recent Cardinals practice. “At our last game, he said from my freshman year to now he could tell that I’ve improved my game. But he also said I have to work on my dribbling, my passing.
Barnes paused. “And oh yeah, my free throws.”
For Orchard View coach Nick Bronsema, those family exchanges between Barnes and Austin are music to his ears. His team is off to an impressive 4-0 start, and Barnes has played a big part in that success.
And success is something that Orchard View boys basketball has not experienced much in recent seasons.
Two years ago, in Bronsema’s first season at OV, the Cardinals won just four games all season. Now with victories being more common, the coach wants his players to remain humble and stay hungry for more wins.
“All that stuff really doesn’t mean anything,” Bronsema said of his team’s undefeated start. “I’m definitely not ready to drink the Kool-Aid. We’re very fortunate to be in this position, but it could change in a hurry.
“What I want them to do is to take each moment, each game, minute by minute, and never take it for granted. We want to value the game of basketball and not disrespect it by not giving our best effort at any practice or game situation.”
That’s a message the Cardinals have thoroughly bought into, led by Barnes and senior forward Davion Lane, who each could have been charged rent for the amount of time they spent working on their skills in the Orchard View gym in the offseason.
“(Barnes) made the West Michigan Lakers (AAU team), but he didn’t have a ride to their practices, so he spent a lot of time at our gym,” Bronsema said. “Last spring, he’d come in on his own, and our principal, Mr. (Dan) Bolhuis, would open the gym for him. That’s different with this administration from what I’ve seen at other schools. It’s refreshing to see.”
Barnes has been a dynamic playmaker throughout the Cardinals’ red-hot start, averaging nearly 22 points a game, along with 5.5 rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Maybe his defining moment came on Dec. 4 against rival Oakridge. Despite his struggles with free throw shooting throughout his freshman season, Bronsema said he felt confident when Barnes was fouled with two seconds remaining, with the game tied 56-56.
Barnes sank both to give the Cardinals a thrilling victory. He finished with 27 points, six rebounds, five steals and three assists.
“There’s no doubt who I wanted to have the ball in that situation,” Bronsema said. “He hasn’t shot free throws great in the past, but when he stepped up to the line in that situation, I had no doubts he could come through. He’s a gamer.”
Bronsema said Barnes makes difficult shots look routine, and is a ball of energy in the Cardinals’ up-tempo offense, and in their full-court defensive pressure. His basketball IQ and ability to set up teammates for easy baskets has improved significantly since his freshman season, when the Cardinals won nine games, aided by a late-season five-game winning streak.
“We noticed Ke’ontae at an early age,” Bronsema said. “He was surprisingly confident as a freshman. This year, I think the game has slowed down for him. We’re looking to him at being the centerpiece at what we’re trying to do here.”
Molded on the hardwood by his uncle throughout his childhood and continuing today, Barnes said his goals are to lead the Cardinals to a long-awaited district title this season, and one day earn All-State honors.
“We’d be the first team to win districts in what seems like forever,” he said. “And I want to lead our team as far as we can go in the playoffs.”