TRAVERSE CITY — Not a single player on the University of Wisconsin - Stout men's basketball roster hails from Michigan.
Traverse City Central's Preston Briggs is set to change that after committing to the Blue Devils this week.
Wisconsin and Minnesota products can be found up and down Stout's lineup, but since Ferris State's former top assistant coach, Jim Lake, took over the program in April, Briggs and others from across Lake Michigan, or perhaps the U.P., may just become more commonplace.
"(Lake) actually used to be a coach for the AAU program I played for — the Grand Rapids Storm," Briggs said. "That's how we're connected."
Lake helped coach Ferris State to a NCAA Division II national championship before assuming the helm of the Blue Devils program. Lake's winning pedigree and commitment to his program went a long way in selling Stout's budding program to Briggs.
"That is something I looked into in considering going there," Briggs said. "He poured his heart and soul into Ferris and helped them out in the championship run. He hustled and did everything he could. I know he's going to work for me as a coach."
The Blue Devils are 6-16 overall and 0-11 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) — one of the top Division III leagues in the country — in the first season of rebuilding a program that has just one .500 season over the last five.
Briggs, a 6-foot-5 senior, is TC Central's second-leading scorer on a Trojans team vying for a Big North Conference championship. He fits into the Stout offensive system as a 3 or 4, bringing size and ball handling to the floor.
Briggs said he expects to make an impact his freshman year.
"I'm excited to go there and be part of his program and help build something there, Briggs said. "I'm excited to help build a culture there.
"Coach Lake said he wants me to immediately come in and do what I can off the bench for my freshman year. Fifteen minutes per game, but definitely come in and have an impact. That's what I'm hoping to do. Obviously, I'll have to work for it, but having the opportunity is everything."
Traverse City Central head coach Travis Schuba said the Blue Devils made their intentions regarding Briggs very clear by flying an assistant coach to see Briggs play in person. Schuba said that is rare.
"For them to fly in just for one game and have dinner with the family and take off for their own game the next day, it showed how bad they wanted him," Schuba said.
Briggs ultimately had to make a decision between Stout, Alma and Lawrence Tech. Not only did he have a comfort factor with coach Lake, but Stout happens to offer a packaging engineering degree that suits his academic interests.
The forward said he has always enjoyed math and science, and a cousin who is pursuing a similar degree at the University of Michigan introduced him to the particular branch of engineering.
An example of the type of work Briggs would do in such a career might be designing a water bottle — finding the most efficient way to design it, what type of cap to use, its dimensions and more.
Briggs visited Stout twice, and on top of seeing the school's athletic facilities, he had the opportunity to check out his future academic environment."
"I loved visiting both times," he said. "Got to meet a lot of the guys and take a tour of the packaging lab. It was a cool lab. A lot of awesome technology I'd get to be using."
Briggs credited Schuba, who had his own college experience to draw from, for helping him through the process.
"A lot of kids these days get caught up in the level you're going," Schuba said. "Growing up all kids have the dream to go DI and make the NBA, but I just tried to stress finding somewhere you can fit the style of play they run and get along with the coaches. More importantly, they have the degree he's interested in. Education is the most important thing at the end of the day.
"I think he's going to do just fine. He's a hard worker. Once you get to the next level, your priorities realign to just school and basketball. I think he's perfect for that. He's one of our more committed players and leaders. I think he will enjoy the process of college basketball."