ALMA— By his own admission, Whitehall alum Brandon Rake started his college playing career as a tall, skinny lad who didn’t have much confidence in his own abilities.
Four years later, he completed his final year as captain of the Alma Scots men’s basketball team and had become a powerful offensive force on the block.
“I really focused on myself, really focused on trying to improve myself,” Rake said. “I think I really evolved as a player and gave my best.
“There has been a lot of personal growth over the four years, and I really enjoyed my time here.”
Rake was a tri-sport athlete at Whitehall, and originally his ambition was to be a college football player.
So in the fall, he grew bigger and heavier and heavier, and then usually lost weight in the winter for basketball. He pioneered the shot put in track and field.
“He’s had a really good career for us,” said former Vikings head coach Nate Aardema, now coaching at Reeths-Puffer. “When he decided to play basketball and he went to Alma, I thought he was going to have a very good career there, focusing on one sport.
“It’s not me advocating for kids to be an athlete of one sport, 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 know if he focused on one thing, he was really going to be very dynamic in college.
“It was cool for me to see him succeed. 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 good at anything if you’re not good at everything.
Rake was 100% invested in everything he did, including his schoolwork, Aardema said.
He was good enough in his second year at junior college in Whitehall to start in the college revealed by Aardema.
The 6-foot-8 rake was first-team all-conference and all-zone in his senior year at Whitehall, and earned an all-state honorable mention as well.
Academically, he was on the honor roll and graduated suma cum laude.
Rake has appeared in all 26 of the Scots’ games this year and started 25 of them. He averaged 20.5 minutes per game.
Offensively, he scored 12.3 points per game on 61.7% shooting, while keeping 48.4% from 3 points. He also averaged eight rebounds per game and finished ninth in the conference with 17 blocked shots.
“He’s been as stable as they’ve been in his four years here,” said Alma head coach Ryan Clark, who became the men’s coach in Rake’s second season. . “He played a lot in first year.
“I was still there, but on the women’s side. I was able to train him for the next three years, and he steadily improved. He’s become one of the best players, I think, in the league this year.
“Probably one of the best, if not the best big one in the league. He was kind of the epitome of steady improvement over four years and really turned into a really good player.
“On the leadership side, he has become a leader for us this year, especially verbally, emotionally and by example. He was very good at helping our young players, trying to do the right things and showing them the right way to do things.
Clark went on to say that some of Rake’s strengths included his footwork, his one-on-one scoring ability, especially his second time in the league.
It was common for Rake to see double teams at times.
“He just became a valuable guy that we could throw the ball into,” Clark said. “He has improved in decision-making and has made the position a little easier this year.
“We threw it at him, and his job was to score and bounce the basketball.”
But its size, or lack thereof, initially slowed it down. Opponents were able to push him around and render him ineffective.
This motivated him to gain weight and strength.
At this last year, it was almost impossible to leave his post.
Opponents struggled to score against him, and Clark said the Scottish defense suffered when he was on the bench.
As a center for the Scots, on the block, Rake had to adapt to playing with his back to the basket.
“It took me a minute at the start to really understand that they needed me to do the hard work, set the big screens, go get the rebounds and put them in,” Rake said.
“Because in high school, I was shooting the ball a lot. It took me a while to really understand. I think, when all is said and done, I think it really helped me focus on my offensive skills in the position and allowed me to be successful in my senior year. Rake says he’s spent the last two and a half years at Alma trying to add a few moves to his toolbox to keep defenses honest and be able to score low.
In high school, Rake was usually taller than Whitehall on the team and was able to shoot people and get away with it in one fell swoop.
At the college level, he had to learn different ways to score.
Defensively, his mere presence on the field was enough to modify the opposing shots.
“I’m sure I’m going to miss the sport,” Rake said. “With around two games left in the season (the Scots finished 5-19) it finally hit me.”
Rake majored in secondary education in the area of mathematics and will be looking for a student teaching position in a yet to be determined location.
He would also like to be a coach, whether in basketball or football.
All photos below are courtesy of Kris Bonner Rake