MONTAGUE – During basketball practice last week in the Montague High School gymnasium, Tate Stine stood alone on the wildcat logo facing his teammates and led them through a dribbling drill. It was clear, he exhibits a high level of skill and they look to him to set the tone.
Nobody in the gym that day was happier to see the senior point guard back on the floor than Wildcats coach Dave Osborne. Well, maybe it was senior backcourt mate Tugg Nichols, who was pressed into lead-guard duties in 2020-21 after Stine suffered a serious knee injury and missed the entire season.
Nobody seems to be flashing a bigger smile these days than Stine himself. He smiles a lot to begin, but he has so many reasons to be happy now.
“I don’t think there’s anyone more happy than Tugg that Tate is back,” Osborne said with a grin. “They’re buddies, but he’s ready to pass that torch back to Tate.”
Eight months after surgery to repair a ruptured anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) and torn meniscus in his right knee, including weeks of ongoing rehabilitation, Stine has returned and he’s ready to lead the way. He provides steadiness and a big shot of confidence for the Wildcats, who opened the season in resounding fashion Friday night with a 46-31 home win over Oakridge.
Photos by Cody Ottinger, Zach Zweigle and Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“A leader, a great teammate, an outstanding defender. He’s obviously the facilitator of our offense – everything goes through him. Communication … just the overall confidence (of the team),” Nichols said about Stine, who as a sophomore starter averaged 8.2 points (third on the team), 4.7 rebounds (third), 3.5 assists (first) and 1.4 steals (third) for a 10-11 squad.
“I think he’s the best (player) in the conference, hands down, whether he’s 100 percent or not.”
Stine initially suffered his knee injury with about 40 minutes left in practice the night before Montague’s opening game last season. He tried to play through it for about a month and got into the game at North Muskegon on Feb. 16, the Wildcats’ third contest of the season, but his knee buckled.
Stine knew that was it. He underwent surgery on March 26.
The pain of the injury was one thing, but it hurt Stine to have to sit on the bench, unable to help his teammates on the floor. It was difficult for his parents, Jeff and Tracy Stine, to have to see their son go through that after he had worked so hard leading up to last season.
“To watch all that hard work and then get it taken away from him, it’s probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen as a parent,” Jeff Stine said. “All you can do is look forward to tomorrow and what you can make out of tomorrow.”
That is Tate Stine’s approach: Keep your head up and make the most the opportunities in front of you.
Stine is still not 100 percent. Osborne said that Stine’s conditioning is a work in progress, and Stine said he’s working on getting all of confidence back in his knee when it comes to explosive and cutting moves on the court.
But the 6-foot, 172-pounder showed in his first game back Friday that he’s able to control what happens on the floor without doing much scoring. Against Oakridge, Stine scored just two points (he took only three shots), but he packed the stat sheet with six assists, six rebounds and four steals against one turnover.
“It felt great to be playing again,” Stine said. “I felt I ended up having somewhat of a positive impact on the game, which is all I wanted to do, but I thought I played an OK game for my first one back.”
Osborne said Stine improved as the game wore on, that he facilitated the offense and put his teammates in positions where they could be successful. The coach said his playmaker ran the Wildcats’ fast break to a “T” and threw some “absolute dimes.”
Much of what Stine does for Montague is intangible. In addition to his deft ballhandling, his court vision is superb.
“He has such a high basketball IQ, he can do things that other players can’t just because he knows how to get kids out of position even with just his eyes,” Osborne said.
Taking a seat on the bench next to Osborne and assistant coach Randy Lindquist for an entire season allowed Stine to have a completely different view of the game. It also gave Stine an even greater appreciation of things.
Nichols & Co. battled last season to an 11-6 overall record and 9-4 mark in the West Michigan Conference, good for third place. Stine, Osborne and the Wildcats can only wonder how things may have been different had Stine suited up last year. After all, Stine was Montague’s best player entering last season, according to Osborne.
Regardless, Stine came away with a whole new perspective, which he is applying this season.
“There’s a lot of things that you don’t see when you’re on the court. I mean, there’s some things that you notice and pick up on when you’re just sitting, watching from the side,” he said.
“And, also, I really got to appreciate some of the guys that maybe aren’t playing 28, 30 minutes a game. They have a role, too. They have a role that’s really important to the team and you’ve got to be able to fill that role. It’s really the supporters there, doing the thing you need to.”
When Montague players went to the bench last season, Osborne would send them to talk to Stine. It was like having another coach. Now, he’s a coach on the floor.
A strong student with a 3.8 GPA (4.1 weighted), Stine, 18, is considering attending Muskegon Community College on the Muskegon Area Promise scholarship. He hopes to be able to play basketball for the Jayhawks, provided he can stay healthy this season.
Stine is a key piece to the puzzle for a Montague team with conference-title hopes and more.
“I’m very hopeful. I have a lot of hope, I’m very optimistic for this season coming up. … I have a feeling that we can make more than just a wave in the conference and hopefully make a little bit of a push,” said Stine, who is playing his cards close to the vest.
“We have a couple goals,” he added with his trademark smile. “I think, like I said earlier, if I make it through the season in once piece, I’ll be pretty happy. I have a couple of personal goals. I’m just looking to make a positive impact on the game.”
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