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Driving For A Title With Michelena Out Front, Clallam Bay Aims For More Than Last Year’s Third-Place Finish

Many wondrous sights appear through the mists as drivers close in on - or head away from - Clallam Bay during the early morning hours.

But drivers accustomed to watching for springing deer or plodding porcupines have resorted to double-takes when Fran Michelena and his basketball take shape through the fog.

It sounds like the stuff of legends when coach John Wilson recounts tales of Michelena dribbling his basketball from his home to school, a distance of 7 miles.

But with a cheery “I’ve done that a few times,” Michelena turns the tall tale into an irrefutable fact.

Michelena and his high-achieving Bruins caught the fancy of the State B tournament last year by advancing to the semifinals and placing third.

Since the Tri-District, of which Clallam Bay is a member, formed in 1980, just one other tourney qualifier had competed so well. Tacoma Baptist lost in the 1991 championship game.

CB started the ‘96 tourney with a bang, knocking off top-ranked Toutle Lake during a 9 a.m. wake-up call. The Bruins then edged Kittitas in the quarters, lost to St. George’s in the semis and rallied past Garfield-Palouse on Saturday for third place.

“Everyone was rooting for us last year,” Michelena said. “You get a few fans when you beat the No. 1 team.”

Michelena was the Bruins’ constant, accounting for 80 points and 41 rebounds, both figures tops among this year’s returners.

This year has been much the same for Michelena, who has averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds for the unbeaten North Olympic League champs.

He played hero Feb. 28, by hitting a basket with 2 seconds left to lift CB to a 65-64 decision in a winner-to-state, loser-out Tri-District game against Seattle Lutheran.

Michelena, a four-year starter, enters this year’s state tourney with 1,833 career points.

That’s 1,744 points more than Michelena would have predicted in third grade, when mother Mary K. insisted he play basketball, an idea he detested.

“She made me play football, too,” Michelena said. “I guess she didn’t want me to be lazy.”

Michelena, guard Thomas Sawyer and coach Wilson arrived as a package deal. Wilson took over four years ago and installed as starters Michelena and Sawyer, a Neah Bay resident who transferred because he preferred CB’s school system.

“We came through the ranks together,” Wilson said. “I worked with them in eighth grade, and could see a lot of potential.”

The freshmen helped weave a 12-8 record one season after the Bruins had finished 3-15. CB has been toward the top since, finishing 14-8 two years ago, 24-5 last season and entering this State B Tournament 19-5.

The Bruins, unfamiliar to Eastern Washington last year, probably would have qualified for state in 1995 if Sawyer hadn’t been bitten by two bugs. One, pneumonia, hit hard near the end of football season. The other, the big screen, caught hold during basketball.

“I went to Oregon to be in a movie (“Dead Man,” with Johnny Depp), and that cut out basketball season because I missed too much school,” Sawyer said. “I kind of just gave up and left.”

CB’s other returning starters are Caleb Duncan (formerly Callihoo) and Chuck Simmons, a parttimer in 1996.

Duncan, who uses his mother’s last name, is a three-year starter who refers to last year’s group as a “style” team and this year’s as a “shooter” team.

“Our record was the same (as last year) going into Tri-District,” Duncan said, “but we’ve done some things this year we didn’t do last year. We were undefeated in league and unbeaten on our floor.”

CB wasn’t beaten on its floor, but its floor sure took a beating. A heavy snow, followed by a fierce wind, damaged part of the gym roof and let in a rush of water. The Bruins missed nearly two weeks of full-out practice because of tarps on the floor.

During that lull CB lost to Cascade Christian, the lone B team to pull that off in the regular season.

Class A Coupeville and the AAA Port Angeles junior varsity also beat CB.

“The schedule’s been tougher this year,” Wilson said. “Every game we play, people are gunning for us.”

The first task is to stop Michelena, but that poses a dilemma. Michelena, a solid 6-foot-3, can shoot from the outside or power inside.

Wilson told Michelena to work on his ball-handling three years ago. The suggestion may have been the genesis for 7-mile dribbles to school.

Reports from Mary K. to Wilson indicate that Michelena even has the basketball within reach when he retires for the night.

CB hired Mary K., fresh out of college, to teach home economics. She left teaching to raise Fran (officially: Francisco) and daughter Amaya, but has since returned to the field.

Amaya, a junior, plays for CB’s girls team. Fran is quick to point out, as only a loving brother can, that just one Michelena is a varsity starter.

Agustin Michelena, a Basque, came to the States at about Fran’s current age. He lived in California and Oregon before opening his shakes and shingles business in Clallam. He has since retired.

Fran, with a 3.9 grade-point average, has attracted several colleges, including Whitworth.

“He’s a little off-the-wall,” Wilson said of his prized pupil, “but he’s mainly a calm, level-headed kid. It’s hard to get him going, but when he does he really gets going.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FRAN MICHELENA FILE Year: Senior Position, size: Forward, 6-3 1996-97 Averages: 24 points, 11 rebounds

This sidebar appeared with the story: FRAN MICHELENA FILE Year: Senior Position, size: Forward, 6-3 1996-97 Averages: 24 points, 11 rebounds

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