By Greg Gielczyk
LUDINGTON — He was playing travel ball with the Grand Rapids Storm when Ludington senior Peyton LaCombe caught the attention of Michigan Tech’s men’s basketball head coach Josh Buettner.
Saginaw Valley State also offered him, and he also talked with Western Michigan University and a couple of other mid-major schools, but they didn’t really extend any offers.
Tech was where he wanted to be, though, and he recently made it official by signing a National Letter of Intent to play for the Division II Huskies starting next year on a full scholarship.
“(Buettner) liked what he saw, and wanted me to come up to Houghton to campus,” LaCombe related. “That was that. I really enjoyed campus, and he’s a great guy, so I was really excited when he asked me to play for them.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I’m extremely excited to have Peyton join the Michigan Tech family,” Buettner told the Local Sports Journal. “He’s so versatile, which fits what we do.
“He can guard every position on the floor. He can play inside, he can play outside, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for, his skill set, pretty much everything he can do.
“Pretty much just a perfect fit.”
Buettner has a good relationship with the Storm program, and he got to see the Oriole senior play on several occasions during the spring.
Impressed with what he saw, Buettner established contact with LaCombe and his parents, Brian and Michal. The relationship blossomed nicely.
“When you get to talk with Peyton and his family, they are just great people,” Buettner added. “He’s not just a great basketball player, but a great person.
“It just became a good fit, and we did our best to see him as many times as we could in the spring, and get him up for a visit, and did our best to build a relationship with him.”
A priority for LaCombe, who was impressed with Tech’s biomedical and mechincal engineering programs which he plans to study, the off-season will be building up his strength according to Buettner.
“He works hard in the weight room now,” Buettner said. “The game is played at a faster pace than high school. He’s a smart kid, he’ll pick it up quick. Just can’t wait to work with him.
“I think for a kid 6-8, he can really shoot it. Obviously, anybody can keep getting better shooting. I know he puts in a lot of time in the gym and keeps mastering his craft.
“That’s one thing we love about him. They put a bigger guy on him, we’ll have on the perimeter shooting 3’s, beating guys off the dribble. If they try to put somebody smaller and get up into him, we’re going to get him down on the block and score there, just make it a mismatch.”
Buettner feels that defense is where LaCombe’s versatility really shows.
“With the AAU especially,” Buettner said. “They’d have him guarding a bigger kid, and set a ball screen, he’d switch on to the point guard.
“He’d be banging with the center, and then be out on the perimeter guarding the point guard three possessions later. That’s what we want. We want to have interchangeable pieces. That just gives us so much more freedom defensively.”
Tech is picked to win the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North this season, and has made the NCAA tournament the last two years.
“We’re not always the most athletic,” Buettner said. “We win with chemistry, toughness and high IQ kids. We’re not big on the transfer thing.
“We like taking high school kids and developing them, getting guys who want to buy into something bigger than themselves.”
Buettner is in his first season as the Huskies’ head coach following the retirement of the former coach, after 13 years as an assistant.
LaCombe extends the long list of Ludington graduates who have gone on to play ball in college following their high school careers.
A member of the Oriole varsity team since he was a freshman, LaCombe has played a couple different positions, from point guard up top on the press, to power forward.
“I grew four inches, so that probably had something to do with it,” the 6-foot-8 LaCombe said. “I got a little bigger, so (coach Thad Shank) moved me to a bigger spot.
“I think I’ve really branched out to kind of just a slasher, to being able to play the perimeter better and shoot the ball. I think my IQ has improved, too, being able to see players defensively as well, (and) get in better positions. Coach (Thad) Shank is a phenomenal defensive teacher.”
The Orioles advanced to the MHSAA Division 2 state semifinal LaCombe’s freshman season, losing to eventual state champion Hudsonville Unity Christian.
COVID finished everyone’s season with the Orioles expecting to win a district championship LaCombe’s sophomore year, while last year Ludington fell in the regional title game.
LaCombe feels that his experience with the Storm should serve him well as he takes the next step in his basketball career, giving him the opportunity to see top shelf competition from all over the country on the Under Armour Arise Circuit.
Grand Rapids even played a team from Alaska.
“You get a wide range of people to play against, and it’s really good competition,” LaCombe said.. “It prepares you for your above average players in college.
“It’s really fast, and that’s what you’re going to see in college. It’s a higher step of high school. Everyone on the team are athletes. It’s definitely an experience, to say the least.”
LaCombe would like to help lead the Orioles to another berth in the state semifinal, and have the experience of playing at the Breslin Center again.