Prep boys basketball: Westwood finds its man in veteran coach Rae Drake Jr.

ISHPEMING – Let the Rae Drake Jr. era begin.

The NICE Community Schools board of education approved the hiring of Drake on Monday evening after he and district representatives came to an agreement that the 56-year-old Marquette resident would take over the reins of the varsity boys basketball program at Westwood High School.

Drake won’t be teaching in the district, but his job was still expected to begin as soon as the board OK’d it, according to WHS athletic director Jon Beckman.

“We’ll have team and summer camps to take care of, plus we’d like to introduce Rae to the rest of our coaching staff and our student-athletes,” Beckman said.

Drake has extensive coaching experience ranging from fourth-grade to several NCAA Division II assistant jobs in the Upper Peninsula.

He has a head coaching record of 121-72 at West PAC member West Iron County from 1996-2005.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg on his resume.

“We tried to conduct an exhaustive search for the best candidate,” Beckman said about replacing Ryan Reichel, who stepped down in March after three seasons with the team.

“We’re happy to have somebody with the experience and knowledge Rae brings at many different levels. Not just for the athletes, but for our other young coaches, since he’s been coaching at many different levels. That experience should prove valuable.”

Drake has lived in the Upper Peninsula for at least four decades as his father, Rae Drake Sr., was head football coach at Northern Michigan University from 1971-73.

The younger Drake graduated from NMU in 1980 with a degree in special education, then served as a basketball coach in Iron Mountain from 1982-96.

“I coached fourth grade up to the 10th grade,” Rae Drake Jr. said about a program that when he worked with the varsity was headed by Rick Olds.

He took the head position at WIC for nearly a decade before making the jump to the college ranks, working with the Michigan Tech University men’s and women’s programs for six years.

He was a part-time assistant on head coach Kevin Luke’s staff from 2005-10, then was assistant under women’s coach Kim Cameron in the 2010-11 campaign, one that saw the Huskies finish as national runners-up.

More recently, he spent the 2012-13 season at NMU serving as an assistant to Wildcat women’s coach Troy Mattson before relaxing – somewhat – last season.

He spent some time downstate consulting with a U.P. friend, Ward Helakoski, who is coach of the Mattawan High School boys basketball team. Family issues took away a large part of his time, though.

“I’ve still got that itch to coach again,” Drake said. “I still have the high-energy level – I just love the game of basketball. I also feel like I have something to offer to young people.”

He said he was initially approached by NICE district representatives, then decided to formally apply for the position.

“I thought, ‘This might be something pretty good for me,'” Drake added.

This spring, he’s been coaching an AAU teen-age team, the 16-and-under Northern Michigan Drive, while Reichel is coaching a companion team.

“We’ve gotten along pretty well. He said he’s very supportive of me taking this position,” Drake said.