Posted On: 08/19/18 2:30 PM
Looking ahead to the 2018-19 WIAA basketball campaign, Prep Hoops Wisconsin examines 10 teams who will be better than expected this season, continuing with the defending Metro Classic Conference champion Prairie School Hawks.
Overall Record: 21-5
Conference Record (Metro Classic): 15-1 (1st)
WIAA State Tournament Finish: Lost 60-50 to Roncalli in the Division 4 Sectional Final
Key Losses: J.C. Butler (26.6 ppg), Troy Mikaelian (15.3 ppg), Buddy Ladwig (9.5 ppg), Logan Krekling (7.9 ppg)
Why The Prairie School?
The Hawks lost 92.2 percent of their scoring from a season ago. So how on earth are they supposed to rebound?
For starters, four seniors return — a group that may not have been the focal points of last season’s 21-5 and Metro Classic Conference title winning squad, but each played in 25 games or more.
Eager to prove their worth, Quinton Stafford, Jack Polzin, Christian Cape, and Konnor Kamm should aid the rebuilding process and smooth the transition for The Prairie School, who lost a total of eight seniors.
“They played some key minutes in some key games,” head coach Jason Atanasoff told Prep Hoops Wisconsin. “Those four will be hungry. I’m sure they feel like it’s their time. “
Some budding youth and potential is also ready to help.
Sophomore wing/forward Antuan Nesbitt has transferred in from Milwaukee Washington. A raw prospect with a very high upside, Nesbitt has a chance to be a big mismatch problem this season.
“He has just a boatload of raw, oozing potential,” Atanasoff said. “He’s long, rebounds well, protects the rim. Offensively, he handles it well.
“He’ll certainly be one of our best passers. His court vision is extremely good for his age.”
Fellow sophomore Isaiah Hoyt was brought up to the varsity last December and provided 3.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. An athletic two-way talent Hoyt can spark the Hawks on both ends of the floor.
“He was really our only non-senior that played extensive minutes at that point in the season,” Atanasoff said. “He should be in the same discussion as some of the city guys who are considered the top players in the state.
“Isaiah is a freak athletically. He’s always been a great on-ball defender, but his ability to work off the ball has improved immensely. In transition, he’s special. His speed, athleticism, ability to see things that most kids don’t see.
“When his team is playing well it’s when we turn defense into offense and a lot of times that’s Isaiah creating those opportunities. I certainly think he will have quite the breakout season and open some eyes.”
Another sophomore to watch, guard Jacob Fallico is a deadly shooter that will step into a key role for The Prairie School this season.
“He can flat out shoot the 3,” said Atanasoff. “When he gets hot, there’s not many better than him.”
Atanasoff also mentioned Cody Krekling and K.J. Williams as potential surprise players this season.
Can this team build chemistry with a unique roster make up?
Atanasoff has been named Racine County Coach of the Year each of the last two seasons. If you ask him, the best thing he did was not “over coach” those groups.
With a mixture of seniors and sophomores who haven’t played much together, how fast can the Hawks come together as a unit?
“The challenge will be getting them to play together and play as a team, which made that team last year so special,” Atanasoff said. “Getting those seniors and sophomores to play together is our biggest challenge out of the gate.
“Those seniors are fully aware that there are some awfully talented sophomores that will be in the mix. The hope is that come January, certainly by March, is that we are playing as a team and not having ‘my time to shine’ moments.
“The sophomores not trying to prove they’re better than the seniors, the seniors not trying to prove that they should have been playing more minutes last year — I think that more than anything is the biggest challenge. If we come together, I think we can have a pretty solid product by the end of the year.”
J.C. Butler (UC-Irvine) was a substantial loss, but the Hawks also had three other seniors that bought into the system, were blue collar, team-first players, which made them so tough to beat. The Prairie School also loses quite a bit of size in the front court and will have to go small — probably not ideal against the likes of Xzavier Jones (Martin Luther), Alex Antetokounmpo (Dominican), and Quinn Cafferty (Racine St. Catherine’s in the Metro Classic Conference.
“We will struggle against some of the longer, more athletic teams,” Atanasoff stated. “We’re going to look to really try and push the pace, get after teams full court. “
Accelerating his team’s growth, Atanasoff isn’t going to coddle the Hawks.
On top of having to play Dominican, Martin Luther, and Racine St. Catherine’s twice each, The Prairie School will take on a couple Division 1 foes in the non-conference such as Racine Case, Kenosha Bradford, and Kenosha Indian Trail.
By the time the heart of the conference season rolls around and the Hawks are gearing up for the playoffs, Atanasoff doesn’t expect his team to be blinking in big games.
“We’ve got some early non-conference games that will help prepare us,” Atanasoff said. “A lot of coaches might like to schedule down in a rebuilding year, I’m not concerned about my personal win-loss record at all. I want to play the best competition we can so come playoff time, we’re prepared.
“They’ll get up for those games and certainly won’t be intimidated. I can promise you that.”