When most people take a vacation, they find a beach on a coast or tropical inlet somewhere so that they can stick their toes into the sand. Maybe they travel to a country they've never visited before, to sample the culture and cuisine. Or, perhaps, it's an entertainment destination, whether it's a game, concert, or theme park with the family. It's ample time to clear your head, re-charge the batteries for work, and a chance to relax and take everything in.
I found all of that, in sub-zero weather, in a place I've been to several times before, with entertainment values off the charts at the 2017 Rick Majerus Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout.
What follows are short summaries of some of the games I took in, as well as general observations, full broadcasts, and even a video of a last-second game-winning three that I took for fun while enjoying my time in basketball nirvana.
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Main Task: Call Waunakee vs. Whitnall for The Big 1070 in Madison
Other Duties: Observe and recap the games for Monona Grove and Mineral Point
The morning started with -14 on my car thermometer, as I drove across the state to iHeartMedia-Milwaukee and then to Concordia University. Some holiday tournaments are near a coast in a tropical zone. This holiday event is near a coast, but one that was full of jagged ice and bitter winds.
Mostly, I wanted to be there early enough to watch Mineral Point take on Martin Luther. Mineral Point is a perennially solid program, and this year featured at least one standout performer: Isaac Lindsey, who is only a sophomore.
I was impressed at how the young Pointers were able to hang with an incredibly athletic and talented Martin Luther team throughout the game. Mineral Point had to dig out of a big hole in the second half, and had a shot at the end to tie, but couldn't hit either of two contested, difficult threes to get it to a tie. When I talked to coach Dan Burreson after Thursday's game, he thought that the experience of rallying against a talented team like that would pay off down the road.
It was also neat to see how Mineral Point clearly deferred to Lindsey and tried to create the final shot attempts for him. Not often that you're drawing up clutch plays for sophomores, but the Pointers are loaded with young and talented players. I'll write about another one of them below. For Lindsey's sake, however, you can tell he's poised already and can shoot the ball well. Mineral Point is going to be a great program for the next couple of years, and it's not all on one player.
The game right after featured Monona Grove taking on one of the state's top players and teams in The Prairie School, which would prove to be a great battle for the Silver Eagles.
Jake Schroeckenthaler scored a career-high 36 points (tied for fourth-most all-time at the WBY Shootout) in a variety of ways, from corner threes to power plays off the blocks, from hooks to reverses, and also got it done at the free throw line. The showing ended up with a line of coaches outside the locker room entrance area seeking to meet 'Shrek' and a crowd of supporters there to celebrate his efforts.
Monona Grove ended up needing that sort of performance against a hot-shooting Prairie School team led by J.C. Butler, one of the state's most outstanding players. Several Silver Eagles played big roles, including a stretch by Sam Hepp early in the second half to give Monona Grove a cushion going into the final throes of the contest.
Those two contests proved to be a nice set-up to the main event of the evening, which would pit undefeated (at the time) Waunakee against Kentucky recruit Tyler Herro and the Whitnall Falcons.
The first half proved to be a defensive battle. Waunakee boxed-and-one'd Herro to frustration, holding him to only three made shots in the game before he left with an ankle injury. Mitch Listau and Mason Steffen provided the necessary playmaking and Dylan Haack drained some outside shots to lift the Warriors to their eighth win to start the season.
While the pervasive storyline from the game would be Herro leaving in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, the game was still tight at that point. Waunakee went on a 19-1 run to close out the game in the second half.
Main Task: Call Eau Claire Memorial vs Milwaukee Lutheran for 98.7 The Brew in Eau Claire
Other Duties: Observe Mineral Point and Waunakee in their second games of the WBY Shootout
While I missed a couple of games on Day 1 due to travel, the plan was to take in all but the final game of the second day of the WBY Shootout. My broadcast was the 1:30pm game, but the main event was the 6pm game between Waunakee and Kaukauna.
Before we got to that point, however, Mineral Point had a battle with Roncalli early in the day first to get me set for the rest of the day. Both teams dropped their contests on day one, so each team seemed eager to put it behind them.
This game proved to be the coming out party for another of the Pointers' talented youngsters. Brayden Dailey was known only to the most ardent of basketball enthusiasts in the state (like Mark Miller, who puts together the WBY Shootout), as well as those in the ultra-competitive SWAL and anyone following Mineral Point basketball. Several of the college recruitment-following media up on the mezzanine with me gushed about his ability, as a freshman, and grabbed their video cameras to piece together recruiting profiles for their publications.
Mineral Point had pushed to multiple-possession leads in the first 28 minutes of the contest, late in the first half and again in the middle of the second half, but Roncalli kept battling back and took the lead with 3:35 to play in the game, to complete a 12-4 run. Roncalli kept sinking their free throws down the stretch as well, and again Mineral Point had to try and run a last-second play to get a three to tie. It didn't go, and Roncalli drained a couple of more free throws to clinch the win, the second five-point loss in two days for the young Pointers.
Coach Dan Burreson not only discussed how this environment would pay dividends for the upcoming conference season, but how the atmosphere and intensity level would bode well for tournament play. Mineral Point plays in a fairly rigorous conference and regional, so the Pointers sought out top competition in the WBY Shootout (and will be participating again in the event in 2018).
Mineral Point has to get ready for conference-leading Southwestern on Friday night, so there's no time to stay down after a pair of losses as the Shootout.
In between this contest and the Waunakee-Kaukauna clash, not only was there another Appleton Xavier offensive display (Xavier came into the event averaging 102 points per game), but I had a game to call for my old home in Eau Claire: The Old Abes of Memorial taking on Milwaukee Lutheran. The Red Knights featured the younger brother of former Wisconsin Badger Freddie Owens, Isaiah Owens, and loads of shooting and athleticism. Not many figured Memorial would last ten minutes on the court, much less the full 36, but solid interior play and second-half defensive efforts kept it close despite a hot three-point shooting night from one of the Knights, JaVeon Tolliver (who sank five threes in the first half and finished with 25 points).
Cormac Sampson, the Wisconsin Badgers football recruit, finished with 20 points to pace Memorial.
At 6pm, it was time for the crown jewel of the night, with Oshkosh North vs. Whitnall spoiled a bit by the injury to Tyler Herro. Kaukauna, with human highlight reel Jordan McCabe, would take on the undefeated Waunakee Warriors.
Waunakee led for most of the first half, until Kaukauna closed it out to halftime on an 11-0 run. Waunakee failed to score in the final 3:34 of the first half, and trailed by three at halftime. The second half was an exhibition of offensive brilliance by the Ghosts, however.
By the time Waunakee ended its scoring drought, on a three-point basked by Dylan Haack with 14:08 to play in the second half, Kaukauna had turned it into a 25-0 run and lead after the made basket 57-41. Waunakee had gone 7:42 without scoring a single point, which was the clear turning point.
In the second half, Jordan McCabe dazzled with several nifty passes, and late in the game got into the scoring habit as well. McCabe would finish with a WBY Shootout-record 16 assists, shattering the old record of 12, in front of a capacity crowd with a line out the door of people waiting to get in despite sub-zero wind chills.
Kaukauna's 101 points also ended up being a WBY Shootout record.
With the luster of the Oshkosh North vs. Whitnall game off a bit with the absence of Tyler Herro, I took my time heading out, stopping to talk to Waunakee coach Dana MacKenzie for a few minutes. MacKenzie (understandably, after a loss) had mixed reaction to the results at the WBY Shootout, but believed that the Warriors emerged having played two of the state's best programs (and two of its very best players) better for it. MacKenzie pointed out that the team is still working through things without Nate Carter, who is a few weeks away from returning from a broken hand he suffered on the first drive of Waunakee's state championship game in football. Waunakee added two sprained ankles and a shoulder injury to their growing injury report as well, but the Warriors don't play again until Thursday.
Coach MacKenzie also was noticeably emotional discussing his father, Skitch MacKenzie, who is doing well and recovering fine at a nursing home, but missed the two games at the Shootout, the first two that Skitch has missed in the 15 years that Dana has coached the Warriors. Coach MacKenzie mentioned it on our taped pregame interview and wished his father well, and hoped to see him back in the stands soon.
Main Task: Call Eau Claire Memorial-Seymour for my old station in Eau Claire
Other Duties: One-on-one with Mark Miller to talk about the event and who's coming next year
The final day of the WBY Shootout was mostly me tying up loose ends and relaxing to watch basketball with a few notable former coaches and media members. I can't even begin to tell you how many engaging conversations I had with basketball junkies over the course of the three days; one coach even claims to have seen me play in high school (which is unbelievable because I played on .500-ish teams for four years and our most notable prospects went D3 outside of Jim Leonhard, and I am the worst athlete in the history of this state).
The first couple of games of the third day were fun contests. I pulled up my phone to shoot video for potential game-winners to send along to WisSports.net, and managed to get one:
Most of my day was prep for my broadcast for my old stations in Eau Claire, and while the audio isn't available yet (check my Twitter @jimmiekaska because I'll post it there next week), it was fun to take in the Old Abes' win over Seymour. Seymour, a very young team with talented shooters, wasn't able to hang with the inside presences of Cormac Sampson and Caden Boser. Boser, notably, had the outside shot falling, with three 18-foot baseline jumpers and a three-pointer to give him a game-high 21 points. Sampson and Boser each had 36 points in the two games at the Shootout. Boser, a sophomore, also likely raised his profile statewide with his solid back-to-back performances.
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I got to see a ton of basketball in a few days, and it's a hell of a way to spend a vacation. I'll be posting audio of interviews with some of the coaches I talked, as well as Mark Miller of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook, early next week. Next year, Mount Horeb and Mineral Point are the Madison-area teams taking part in the event. I'll be back to cover it in 2018. Thanks for reading. Happy New Year, and here's to a fantastic final half of the basketball season!