By Greg Gielczyk

ALMA — By his own admission, Whitehall alum Brandon Rake began his college playing career as a tall, scrawny kid who wasn’t very confident in his own abilities.

Four years later, he finished his senior year as the team captain for the Alma Scots men’s basketball team, and had developed into a powerful offensive force down on the block.

“I really focused on myself, really focused on trying to get myself better,” Rake said. “I think I really developed as a player, and put my best self forward.

“There was a lot of self-growth within the four years, and I really enjoyed the time here.”

Rake was a three-sport athlete at Whitehall, and originally, his ambition was to be a college football player.

So, in the fall he would bulk up, and get heavier and bigger, then typically lost some weight in the winter for basketball. He threw the shot put in track and field.

Photo courtesy of Kris Bonner Rake

“He had a really good career for us,” said former Vikings head coach Nate Aardema, now coaching at Reeths-Puffer. “When he decided on basketball and went to Alma, my assumption was he was going to have a really good career there, focusing on just one sport.

“That’s not me advocating for kids being a one-sport athlete, it’s more of a realization that it’s cool that he was able to do all three, and do all three well in high school, but knowing if he focused in on one thing he was really going to be really dynamic in college.

“It was cool for me to see him have success. He was a great kid to have in our program.”

Aardema added that Rake is a prime example of the axiom that you can’t be great at anything if you’re not good at everything.

Rake put 100 percent into everything he did, including his school work, Aardema said.

He was good enough as a sophomore on the junior varsity at Whitehall that he could have started on the varsity Aardema revealed.

The 6-foot-8 Rake was First Team All-Conference and All-Area his senior year at Whitehall, and also earned All-State honorable mention.

Academically, he was on the honor roll and graduated suma cum laude.

Rake appeared in all 26 games for the Scots this year, and started 25 of them. He played  an average of 20.5 minutes a game.

Offensively, he scored 12.3 points a game on 61.7 percent shooting, while canning 48.4 percent from 3-point range. He also averaged eight rebounds a game, and was ninth in the conference with 17 blocked shots.

Photo courtesy of Kris Bonner Rake

“He’s been as steady as they come in his four years here,” said Alma head coach Ryan Clark, who became the men’s coach in Rake’s sophomore season. “He played a lot as a freshman.

“I was still here, but on the women’s side. I was able to coach him the next three years, and he’s steadily gotten better. He became one of the best players, I thought, in the league this year.

“Probably one of the, if not the best bigs in the league. He’s kind of been the epitome of steady improvement over four years, and really turned himself into a really nice player.

“On the leadership side, he became a leader for us this year, especially verbally, emotionally and by example. He was very good at helping our young players out, and try to do the right things, and show them the right way to do things.”

Clark went on to say that some of Rake’s strengths included his foot work, his ability score one-on-one, especially the second time through the league.

It was common for Rake to see double teams at certain points.

“He just became a valuable guy that we could throw the ball into,” said Clark. “He got better at making decisions, and facilitated a little bit more this year out of the post position.

“We threw it in to him, and his job was to score and rebound the basketball.”

But his size, or the lack of it, slowed him down at first. Opponents were able to push him around, and make him ineffective.

That motivated him to gain weight, and strength.

By this, his senior year, he was almost impossible to move out of his position.

Opponents struggled to score against him, and Clark said the Scots’ defense suffered when he was on the bench.

As the Scots’ center, down on the block, Rake had to adjust to playing with his back to the basket.

“It took me a minute at first to really understand that they needed me to do the hard work, set the big screens, go get the rebounds and lay them in,” said Rake.

“Because in high school, I shot the ball a lot. It took me awhile to really comprehend. I think, when it’s all said and done, I think that really helped me focus in on my offensive skills down in the post, and allowed me to be successful in my last year.” Rake says he spent the last two and a half years at Alma trying to add some moves to his tool box to keep defenses honest, and to be able to score down low.

In high school, Rake was usually taller than the team’s Whitehall faced and was able to shoot over people and get away with just one move.

At the college level, he had to learn some different ways to score.

Defensively, just his presence on the court was enough to alter opponents’ shots.

“I’m sure going to miss the sport,” Rake said. “With about two games left in the season (the Scots finished 5-19) it finally hit me.”

Rake majored in secondary education in the math field, and will be looking for a student teaching position at a place still be determined.

He would also like to coach, either basketball or football.

All photo’s below are courtesy of Kris Bonner Rake