Ashland University's men's basketball senior class is headlined by a pair of 1,000-point scorers and a transfer who has worked his way into a key reserve role for the Eagles.
That class also includes perhaps the best story of the bunch – someone who's gone from local high school graduate to a member of the United States Navy to a graduating college senior and a three-year member of the AU men's basketball team.
Introducing forward Michael Cain.
"Mike is one of those guys who sent me an e-mail one day and came into my office, sat down and said, 'I want to be part of the team,'" said Ashland head coach John Ellenwood. "He just wanted to be a part of our family. He's just grown to be a huge part of our team. He's very inspirational."
Cain had an injury-filled athletic career at nearby Loudonville High School, but was part of a Redbird boys basketball team which went to the state Final Four. By his own admission, "I shouldn't have graduated."
He did graduate in 2006, then waited a year before joining the Navy. He spent eight years in the Navy, including tours in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guam, Philippines and, in 2009, Iraq.
After ending his tour with the Navy in 2014, Cain, who said he originally wanted to do 20 years, applied to enroll at Ashland. That was after taking some classes while enlisted, and thanks to the GI Bill.
Once in school, his next step was to get on the Eagle men's basketball team.
"I e-mailed coach. I don't even remember what I said, it was so long ago," Cain said. "I was 26. Three years ago. That's crazy."
After not playing as a sophomore, Cain saw action in three games (six minutes) as a junior. Then, this season, he's seen action in both varsity and junior varsity games. On Nov. 19 at home against Wilberforce, in a 92-57 victory, Cain scored his first five collegiate points and grabbed two rebounds.
"You saw how much that meant to our team, and that shows you how much Mike means to the team," Ellenwood said. "He works so hard on and off the basketball floor. He's a very selfless person. He gives to everybody. When he gives so much, in those moments, it kind of shows that everybody really cares about him."
Cain appreciates the opportunity to see more playing time as a JV player, as well.
"It was so much fun. I would do it again," he said. "I had a blast with it. (Graduate assistant coach) Brook (Turson) is going to be a great coach."
Like a lot of athletes, Cain, whose teammates call him "pops" and "old man," can't believe his time with the Eagles is coming to an end. He said it has been incredible, and it will be a bittersweet ending come Thursday (Feb. 23) at 7:30 p.m. at home against Tiffin on Senior Night.
"It's going to be emotional," said Cain. "Wouldn't change anything. Time of my life."
Said Ellenwood, "Mike does a great job of balancing his life. I couldn't be prouder of a person, and he's just a lot of fun to be around in practice, and we're going to miss that with him. I'm very thankful that he came into our life. He's going to go down as one of the favorite players I have coached."
Cain will graduate in May with a degree in Criminal Justice. His life's journey has taken him all around the world, with his latest stop in Ashland. As for the future…
"I have no idea what I want to do," he said. "I've been doing some carpentry. I like it. We'll just see. I've been kind of just going with it for the last 10 years."