Boys hoops team happy to have a season

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Rob Reischel
Logan Raffel and Middleton’s boys basketball team will begin their season at Kingdom Prep Lutheran High School in Wauwatosa on Jan. 27./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

There were times in the past few weeks when Middleton boys basketball coach Kevin Bavery thought it might be easiest to punt on the 2020-21 season.

The Cardinals didn't have an offseason. Most of the state was playing games, while schools throughout Dane County were in a state of limbo.

“There were times … I thought maybe it was just best for us to officially be done and let everyone move forward emotionally,” Bavery said.

Last week, all it took was a few “thumps” of the ball for Bavery to know he was wrong.

“Once you hear that sound of the ball hitting the floor and you see the 'masked smiles' and see the body language of being around the game again it's pretty invigorating,” Bavery said.

Middleton superintendent Dana Monogue and athletic director Jamie Sims approved the return of winter sports on Jan. 11, with all games to be played outside of Dane County.  Now, Bavery and the Cardinals begin the arduous task of getting ready for a postseason that begins Feb. 16.

Due to pandemic restrictions imposed by Dane County health officials, in addition to not being able to play games in their home gym or anywhere in the county, the Cardinals must maintain six feet of social distancing during practices and can only have 10 players in the gym at the same time. 

While that still allows for individual skill development, with no scrimmaging or close-contact drills, the players lack an opportunity outside of games to gain chemistry together offensively or defensively, or to learn how to improvise when things don’t go according to plan.

“We've had to be creative,” Bavery said. “How do you run your screening reads offense when you can't screen and cut off screens, and you can't have defenders giving you reads? How do you defend when you can't play 1-on-1 through 5-on-5? How do you block out when you have to stay 6-feet apart at all times? How do you trap ballscreens in the half court, and extend into full court trapping defense when you can't trap?

“The restrictions of what we can do have limited us to skills work, walking through concepts, and defending while staying way off of people instead of getting into them. We've used stand up football dummies, spread out offense with cones, close out to cones instead of to an opponent, and so on. Then when we finally have a game it will really be like more of a practice for us, especially the first few. Games will essentially be practices for us this season!”

Bavery is in the process of trying to schedule games. That’s been difficult, though, because out-of-county schools began in November and most have their schedules full.

“I think that people might just think that when we got permission to play that we'd have 15 games in the final three weeks of the season,” Bavery said. “We've been in touch with people all season long, but couldn't commit to anything until just recently.

“Most who started their seasons on time are full, and those who started late still got the jump on us by several days or more. We managed to get several interested early, but we are limited by having to find sites outside the county. We have some that are close to locking in, and those will all involve some extensive travel.”

When Middleton does take the court, it could have an interesting team packed with young, gifted players.

Leading the way will be junior guards Logan Raffel.

Raffel averaged 7.0 points per game last year and had many of his best games in the second half of the season.

Junior guard TJ Bauer (6 ppg), another key returnee, recently suffered a dislocated shoulder and is expected to miss the year.

Sophomore Kaden Fosdick was named Middleton’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ last season. Fosdick averaged 3.3 points per game, as well as 4.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals per contest. Fosdick was also the ‘chaser’ when Middleton played a box-and-one defense, meaning he was asked to defend the opponent’s top perimeter player.

Junior Tanner Ballweg, who joined the varsity at mid-season last year, also provided an immediate spark with his aggressive and physical play.

Senior forward David Meier is a non-stop, hustle and energy player. Senior guard George Finch has gotten stronger and improved his shooting range. And senior forward Hayden Statz saw his playing time rise last year and is a sneaky scorer.

“Those returning with varsity experience, we think they can all contribute,” Bavery said.

In addition, Bavery expects a lot of help from a junior varsity team that went 20-2 last year and a pair of freshmen teams that combined to go 35-2.

“Our JV’s, led by coach Antonio Hoye, had a great season and have several potential contributors,” Bavery said. “It’s a great mix of size, speed, quickness, and skill. They are a solid on ball defensive group, a quality that will be key in our overall team defense and approach.”  

While the Cardinals don’t have a proven standout or any returning all-conference players, Bavery thinks his team will be deep, versatile and defensive-minded.

“We will have depth,” Bavery said. “We’ll have the ability to play the type of system game that we had gotten away from as we tried to fit schemes that best fit our personnel. We’ll be able to extend defensively and run the court with a lot of interchangeable pieces.

“We will have a lot of players who can shoot, but hopefully a few shooters will emerge, and there is a difference. We’ll find out how much time players have put into their shot development once we get back on the court. We believe it’s a pretty instinctive group, so our plan is to open up things even more offensively. Defensively we want to make things happen as much as possible.”

Middleton found out last week its regional will consist of DeForest, Oregon, Sun Prairie, Verona, Waunakee and the Cardinals. Middleton will have about four weeks to get ready for regionals — which isn't ideal, but certainly beats the alternative of not playing.

“The No. 1 goal is to simply be appreciative of the opportunity that we have and to make the most of it,” Bavery said. “If nothing else I think the kids have learned that you can't take anything for granted. Last Friday I told them that I have one goal on game night from a basketball standpoint ... superior effort and that's it for now.

“That may change once we have more opportunities to play, but it really is that simple right now. That and our original thinking during these times of finding what experiences we can maybe have that are both safe and meaningful.”

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