MHS' boys basketball team forced to adjust

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Jack Boyle and Middleton's boys basketball team begin their new season Wednesday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The way many viewed it, things were over before they even began.

On Oct. 5 — roughly one month before the start of basketball season — Middleton’s Max Schlicht collapsed on the football field. The 6-foot-7 Schlicht — arguably the Cardinals’ best basketball player — suffered a torn ACL for the second straight year.

Middleton, considered a contender for the Big Eight Conference title, was written off by many.

The Cardinals themselves had just three words for the doubters.

Not. So. Fast.

“I’m really optimistic,” said Cardinals senior forward Jake Klubertanz, whose team opens their year Wednesday against Waterford. “Obviously, when Max went out, everyone had their head down. He’s irreplaceable.

“But there’s so much we can do in different ways and we can just find a different path to success. We just have to step up. We kind of all understand that and I still think that the sky’s the limit for this team if we find our roles and stick to the plan.”

This marks the second straight year Schlicht will miss the entire season due to a devastating knee injury. And considering Schlicht had a magnificent summer and was attracting collegiate attention, filling his shoes will border on impossible.

But Middleton is optimistic it will be able to beat people in different ways.

“Obviously losing Max is huge,” said senior guard Jack Boyle. “He’s a great player. But I think with not having him last year, we know it's kind of next man up.

“I think we have some guys that are ready, some juniors coming up. Obviously losing a guy like him is a huge loss, but we’re just going to keep moving forward. We know we still have a good squad this year.”

Middleton’s strengths should be its backcourt of seniors Sam Close and Boyle.

Close, whose father Gary is a former University of Wisconsin men’s basketball assistant, is a sharpshooter who is Middleton’s top returning scorer (5.9).

“Sam is probably as good of a catch and shoot player as I’ve ever had,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “Last year he needed a pretty big window, but he’s really improved on his shot quickness. So he’ll definitely be a green light shooter for us.”

Boyle figures to be the Cardinals’ primary point guard. But Boyle (4.1 ppg last year) is a sensational shooter himself and Bavery would love to move him off the ball at times.

“Jack Boyle is really just that perfect combo guard,” Bavery said. “He’ll play one, two and three.”

Seniors Casey Hellenbrand, Chandon Thomas and Wyatt Wirkus, along with juniors Cole Deptula and Henry Patterson will all vie for time, as well.

Up front, the 6-foot-5 Klubertanz seems poised for a breakout season. A year ago, Klubertanz was a key reserve, but will see his playing time — and role — increase dramatically this year.

“He’s got to be the guy that’s going to be our go-to guy in the post,” Bavery said. “Jake’s got to be a go-to guy. He’s got to be a leader.”

Klubertanz averaged 5.0 points per game last year, but figures to see that number jump dramatically this season.

“I just want to help this team any way I can,” Klubertanz said. “I want to get as many rebounds as I can possibly get every night and I want to play the best defense on the court and score wherever it comes in. If I score double figures, I’m good with that. If I don’t score at all, but get 10 rebounds and we win, I’m good with that, too.”

Junior Parker Van Buren, an all-state volleyball player who has grown five inches in the past year and now stands 6-foot-7, could become a key contributor. Van Buren’s skills are somewhat raw, but his potential is sky high.

“Right now I’d say he has basic skills. He can obviously rebound with his height,” Klubertanz said of Van Buren. “But I think the sky’s the limit for him. He can get so much better.”

Junior Billy Johnson, an all-Big Eight Conference defensive lineman in football, could be a rebounding machine and figures to set some of the meanest screens in the league. Senior center Keegan Severn and senior forward Ben Scher also figure to see frontcourt minutes.

“Obviously you can’t replace Max Schlicht,” Bavery said. “But if there’s any silver lining it’s that the players understand they have an opportunity that in all likelihood wouldn’t have been there before.

“I think Max would have been the best true big in the Big Eight. I really do. Watching him this summer, he got absolutely every defensive rebound, so I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse for a kid. I really don’t. But now we need some other kids to step up.”

Bavery and the Cardinals are optimistic they have those players. And in a wide-open Big Eight Conference, anything seems possible.

Sun Prairie was the consensus favorite until all-state forward Jalen Johnson transferred to Glendale Nicolet over the summer. Most people now view Madison Memorial as the team to beat, with Madison East and Madison La Follette in the hunt, as well.

A Middleton squad with Schlicht would have almost certainly challenged for league supremacy. A Middleton team without its star center remains a mystery — one the Cardinals are anxious to begin solving.

“I think this year in general, the conference is kind of wide open,” Boyle said. “At first, everyone thought Sun Prairie was the clear favorite. But there’s a lot of good teams and I think there’s five, six, seven teams that could wind up on top.

“I’m super excited. Can’t wait. I’ve been waiting for this all summer.”

Klubertanz agreed.

“We’re all trying to find our roles right now,” he said. “We know who our better players will be and there’s a lot of competition to see who will fill those roles behind them. I think everyone understands their roles.

“With Max out, I think people will count us out, but I think we have a lot of other pieces. I just still think we have plenty of pieces to do lots of damage in the conference.”

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