RIRIE — Michael Ure destroys your perception of what a contemporary high school basketball “big” should be.
At a Tuesday practice, the 6-foot-7 Ririe High School senior said some of his favorite players are Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward and Nikola Jokić as his teammates tease him walking out of Ririe’s gym.
In the 2A eastern Idaho basketball world, he is a concoction (or a model) of those far-off pro players: Ure is a long, skilled ball-handler who is simply too much for Nuclear Conference foes to handle. A shy, polite, 17-year-old kid who can protect the paint by forcing an opposing player to lob an awkward floater on one end and then turn around and stutter step down the court with the ball in his off hand, only to eventually finish the possession with a hesitation dribble toward the right elbow for a jumper.
Ure displays this naturally gifted, “guard play in a high school big man’s body” frequently during a jovial, intra-team scrimmage Dec. 11.
“You don’t (stop him),” teammate, and “brother,” Larz Sutton said. “That’s serious. You can’t stop him.”
Whether he asked for the title or not, Ure is the face of the Ririe Bulldogs. When you play in small-town Ririe — which packs its gym of 1,528 for the Bulldogs — it’s hard not to be. And he has been for the previous three seasons.
But it’s not just his size that draws attention. Sure, in life, people are handed certain cards — but it’s what you do with the cards handed that defines you.
It’s not just Ure’s 6-foot-7 frame that makes him special. It’s what he does with his athletic frame. It’s his ability to post up. It’s his smooth shooting form. It’s his ability to pass out of the high post.
It’s his ability to confront you, or talk to you, Sutton said, pointing to his leadership qualities.
It’s his ability to be one of the most difficult players to guard in the state, regardless of classification.
“Like, the other day, we went to go exchange my shoes — my mom was telling this story, I wasn’t there — but she went to exchange my shoes and she told them my name and everything and they go, ‘Oh, Ririe, right?’ and I was like, that’s really cool. He knows Ririe. That’s awesome,” Ure said when asked about his local stardom.
“It’s cool to know that you’ve been working for something and it’s finally paying off,” he added. “It’s cool to have all that, but it’s also cool to have a team you can rely on.”
As Ririe has built itself into a perennial 2A contender — in both boys and girls basketball — Ure’s quickly been the player almost synonymous with the Bulldogs’ success over the previous three years.
The Bulldogs have gone 52-8 during that time, including back-to-back 2A state title appearances.
Ure’s been right there in the mix of it all, averaging a double-double the past two seasons and racking up local honors as well as a full-ride offer from Montana Tech. He averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game on 56 percent shooting a year ago. Those numbers have gone up this season to 25 points and 10 rebounds per game with a 57 field goal percentage.
Ure is the fastest Ririe player to reach 1,000 career points, coach Eric Torgerson said, and should easily surpass the school record set in 2004 by Adam Summers (around 1,100 points).
“He’s the answer to everything,” Torgerson said. “Teams are all over him, not letting him touch the ball sometimes. He’s just an all-around player. He can play all positions.”
Ure has consistently been a key cog for the Bulldogs, including dropping a career-high 36 points against Teton this year (only slightly ironic since his father once played for Teton), but it hasn’t always been this way for a program whose only boys basketball state title came in 1990 in the A3 classification.
Before a bunch of District 6 players decided to attend Ririe — Ure is from Bonneville’s district; Stockton Johnson is from Hillcrest; Carter Smith is from Shelley; Sutton is from Madison — the Bulldogs were doormats in the Nuclear Conference. From 2009 to 2015, Ririe won just 43 games. In 2012, the Bulldogs were winless.
But that narrative changed when Sutton, Ure, Johnson and a majority of Ririe’s core decided to forget the big schools and gain the “small-town” feel. Sutton came in seventh grade, Michael came as a freshman — following his sister, who wanted to play volleyball.
“I just saw the small-town atmosphere and I said, ‘That looks pretty good.’ I love getting to know everybody in the school instead of knowing 60 or 70 kids from one school and you don’t know anybody else,” said Sutton, who sprung the “moving in” idea onto Ure and the rest of the Bulldogs a few years ago.
“Ririe has been great for me. I’ve liked it up here,” Ure said. “It’s been a good experience for me. ... They spend so much time with me in classes. They’ve definitely put in a lot of time and effort helping me learn as much as I can. Coach (Torgerson), all the coaches here — coach (Jordan Hamilton), coach (Jed Wilson) — they’ve all been great for me and my confidence. My confidence has grown a lot. And even the people here have taught me so much.”
With “big school kids” playing in the 2A ranks, well, the rest is history. The Bulldogs are a team to watch this winter.
They’re 7-1, among the best in 2A, according to media and coaches’ polls, and have their sights on a state title.
Ure should be right there until the end, too — either grabbing rebounds, dunking, crossing over opponents or draining 3-pointers.
“He’s a hard matchup,” Sugar-Salem coach Shawn Freeman said over the phone after his team lost to Ririe, 61-51, earlier this month. “He’s a 6-7 kid that can hit outside shots and dribble. … You try and do things to make his life difficult. We were playing him pretty good, but he’s just such a big part of their offense.”