Posted On: 08/29/18 8:01 PM
We’ve looked at five teams we think will outperform expectations in 2018-19. Now, let’s examin five teams who will make a big jump, continuing with Madison LaFollette…
Overall Record: 19-6
Conference Record (Big Eight): 13-5 (T-3rd)
WIAA State Tournament Finish: Lost 63-56 to Sun Prairie in the Division 1 Sectional Semifinal
Key Losses: Anthony West (11.9 ppg), Nate Seward (6.6 ppg), Kierre Washington (10.3 ppg)
G Troy Reeves – Sr. (13.0 ppg)
G Donneil Gray – Sr. (14.4 ppg)
G Isaiah Stewart – Jr. (9.8 ppg)
G Ben Probst – Jr. (7.9 ppg)
F Charles Suggs – Sr. (3.8 ppg)
The Lancers had about the quietest 19-win season you’ll ever see. Perhaps the bigger story in the Big Eight Conference was Sun Prairie dethroning Madison Memorial and ending their incredible 14-year title run, but LaFollette didn’t get their due and drastically improved down the stretch.
The Lancers return five players that saw significant minutes and played a major role and will enter the 2018-19 season a serious threat, not only in the Big Eight, but in Division 1.
“I feel pretty confident in the group we’ve got coming back,” head coach Curtrel Robinson told Prep Hoops Wisconsin. “We have a lot of experience.
LaFollette ended the year by winning 10 of their last 13 games, with two of those losses coming to Sun Prairie, who reached the state tournament. Of those 10 victories, eight came by double-digits. In fact, LaFollette dropped the Big Eight runner-up Madison Memorial 63-40 in a WIAA Regional Final.
In their final appearance, LaFollette fell by seven to Sun Prairie, a team that beat them by 22 points in the first meeting.
“That last game was very bittersweet,” said Robinson. “I told the guys in the locker room, we put up our best fight. Jalen Johnson probably had the best game in his high school career. It showed how close we were.
“The boys were pretty excited about the fact that we were right there. I think we overachieved. I knew we’d be a surprise team in the Big Eight and be in the conversation, but I didn’t think we’d go on those eight-game winning streaks.
“The spring in the summer have been dedicated to being hungry. Now they’ve got a taste of what it’s like in those big time atmospheres and winning some of those games.”
LaFollette’s backcourt is going to be very tough for opponents to handle. The Lancers have three of the best isolation scorers in the Madison area, if not the state in Gray, Reeves, and Stewart — all of which are top 50 prospects in their respective classes and should average in double figures this season.
Gray was a first-team All-Big Eight selection in 2017-18, while Reeves was a second-team pick, forming one of the top 1-2 punches in the state.
“They’ve been playing together since sixth, seventh grade,” Robinson explained. “They have a lot of chemistry with each other. They know where each other is going to be.
“They were putting up a lot of shots and getting in the weight room together all summer. They’re showing they’re both on the same page. They want to make this senior year one to remember.”
One of the bigger risers in the class of 2020 rankings over the summer, Stewart showed he was capable of doing some special things on the AAU circuit when he was the go-to option.
In fact, between his first and second seasons at LaFollette, Stewart made the jump from freshman to varsity ball.
“He was kind of a sleeper last season,” said Robinson. “He’s a kid that’s hard to take off the floor. He kind of caught me by surprise last season. He’s very tough. “
As explosive as this LaFollette team could be next season, Ben Probst might be the guy that holds it all together.
A regular starter for the Lancers as a sophomore, Probst is asked to contribute in a variety of ways that often doesn’t include scoring. In a smaller lineup, Probst has to play and defend bigger than his size. He makes smart, fundamentally sound plays that get his teammates high percentage opportunities to score.
Probst has played varsity since he was a freshman. He’s also a quarterback for the Lancers football team and provides a high-IQ, calming presence on the floor.
“We liked Ben’s leadership right away,” Robinson said. “Even coming in as a freshman, he had a mature mindset. He has the work ethic and he’s a pretty fundamentally sound kid.
“He’s a sharpshooter, you can’t leave him open. I think that will go well with our guard play and the other guys who slice the lane. He’s also worked hard on his body. He’s more explosive now and he can guard a lot of different players.”
Also keep tabs on senior guard Dre Smith, who will serve as a defensive stopper.
“He can guard anyone on the floor,” said Robinson.
There’s no Jalen Johnson standing in the way of LaFollette. Arguably the best prospect to come out of the state of Wisconsin in the recruiting rankings era has transferred to Nicolet, leaving the Lancers, along with Madison Memorial as the two preseason favorites in the Big Eight with Sun Prairie likely staying relevant as well even without Johnson and his brother Kobe. Madison East, led by Anthony Washington, is also a sleeper pick.
Entering 2018-19, Robinson wants to make sure the Lancers don’t fall back on last season’s success.
“Every year is different,” Robinson said. “You can’t bank off last season. If anything, we have more of a target on our backs.”
Looking ahead to the WIAA State Tournament, LaFollette should challenge Racine Park and others as the top contenders in Sectional 3. First things first, Robinson says the Lancers want to posses the crown in the Big Eight, consistently one of the state’s best conferences.
“I know for a fact, if we win the conference, we have a very good chance of going downtown,” Robinson said. “That’s just how it’s been when it comes to our regional and the Big Eight.
“The goal is to win a conference title. I believe if we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”