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Posted On: 08/27/18 5:27 PM
We’ve looked at five teams we think will outperform expectations in 2018-19. Now, let’s look at five teams who will drastically improve, beginning with the Nicolet Knights…
Overall Record: 16-10
Conference Record (North Shore): 12-6
WIAA State Tournament Finish: Lost 69-59 to Kaukauna in the Division 2 Sectional Final
Key Losses: Jack Brahm (13.2 ppg)
Projected Starting Lineup
G Sonny Phinesee – sr. (7.0 ppg)
G Desmond Polk – jr. (19.0 ppg)*
F Jalen Johnson – jr. (18.4 ppg)**
F Jamari Sibley – jr. (16.8 ppg)
F Jarrett Henderson – sr. (3.7 ppg)
*With New Berlin West
**With Sun Prairie
The Knights have three top five ranked players in the class of 2020, an experienced, senior leader at point guard, and size, length, and athleticism up front that few teams can match up with.
The transfers of Jalen Johnson, Kobe Johnson and Desmond Polk have bolstered a team that was already expected to be a contender in Division 2.
While leading Sun Prairie to its first-ever state tournament berth, Jalen Johnson averaged 18.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game.
Polk posted 19.0 points and 3.2 assists per game. Not to mention, he’s one of the best long-range shooters in the state.
Kobe Johnson played mostly JV as a freshman, but over the summer developed into a top 25 prospect in Wisconsin’s class of 2021…and rising.
This team was already built to potentially win the North Shore next season. The Johnson brothers and Polk make Nicolet clear cut favorites, not only within the conference, but perhaps all of Division 2.
Whose team is this?
Jamari Sibley has been in the program for two years and led the team in scoring last season, but nobody would probably describe him as a vocal leader.
Sonny Phinesee is a true floor general that’s an extension of the coach on the floor, but does he take a back seat to Jalen Johnson, who has that alpha dog mentality?
Last season with New Berlin West, Polk was often looked to and relied upon in key moments, despite being on a team with a few seniors that put up very respectable numbers.
As talented as this team is, it could be perhaps foolish to think that everything will come together over night. Not only do many of the Knights have to learn to play together and form new roles, but the leadership dynamic, that couldn’t have been established in the off-season, won’t come into place until November at best.
At the end of the day, winning generally trumps everything else. Regardless of the dynamic that head coach Allan Hanson has to manage, implementing transfers into a team with a number of players who have started games and paid their dues within the program, I don’t foresee Nicolet letting an opportunity to win a state championship slip past them because guys can’t potentially coexist.
It’s also important to remember that the big three of Polk, Sibley, and Jalen Johnson are also AAU teammates. That bond and chemistry is already there. Not only that, they’ve won multiple tournaments together and set a bar with the other players in the locker room as to what it takes to win big.
You also don’t worry about having enough shots to go around. Johnson is extremely unselfish and to his core — a pass-first playmaker. Polk and Sibley aren’t ball stoppers who need to handle possession for long stretches and shut down the flow of the offense so they can get theirs. With facilitating guards like Phinisee and Johnson as well as a junkyard dog in Henderson, Nicolet has a little bit of everything offensively and should force opponents to pick their poison.
As much as most want to make them the clear cut favorite in Division 2 or call them the best team in the state, I think it will still take some time to come together. There’s value in being in wars together as a unit or coming up short one season and carrying that chip on your shoulder into the next — like a La Crosse Central.
I’ll be interested to see how the Knights respond in a close dogfight on the road or against a senior-laden team come playoff time. On paper however, Nicolet is the most talented team in the state…but that doesn’t always result in a gold ball.