Posted On: 09/5/18 7:11 PM
We’ve looked at five teams we think will outperform expectations in 2018-19. Now, let’s examine five teams who will make a big jump, continuing with Grafton…
Overall Record: 8-15
Conference Record (North Shore): 4-14 (T-9th)
WIAA State Tournament Finish: Lost 78-55 to West Bend East in the Division 2 Regional Semifinal
Key Losses: Ayden Edmundson (3.8 ppg)
G Jaden Pollack – Sr. (11.7 ppg)
G Alex Huibregtse – Jr. (15.6 ppg)
G Bryson Clague – So. (9.6 ppg)
F Brock Heffner – So. (7.1 ppg)
F J.P. Benzschawel – So. (18.0 ppg)*
*Missed all but one game of last season
The Blackhawks were one of the state’s youngest teams last season and reload with their top eight scorers.
“A lot of guys return and they all played meaningful minutes,” Grafton head coach Damon James said. “Having that game experience, there’s nothing like it, you can’t simulate that in practice.
“On top of that, those guys got hungrier. They guys worked hard on their games this summer, developing aspects of their game that we didn’t see last year.”
Grafton won eight games without arguably their best player.
Class of 2021 forward J.P. Benzschawel suffered a season-ending injury after just one game in which he put up 18 points and 10 rebounds in a win over South Milwaukee.
Benzschawel attempted to come back in February, but suffered a setback. He’s since returned to the gridiron and is expected to be 100 percent for the 2018-19 season.
“He’s moving well and looking good,” said James. “And I think he grew a little bit more.
“What we saw out of him this summer was awesome. He’s got a pretty decent feel around the basket, plays with a big motor. His skills are developing and his footwork isn’t bad. He’s got a little bit of skill too and can shoot the three.”
Leading scorer Alex Huibregtse returns as well. As a junior, Huibregtse posted 15.6 points and 2.9 assists per game.
“He took last year hard,” James said. “He put a lot of time on his craft in the off-season. His aggressiveness and decision making have gotten better, his defense has gotten better.
“I know he’s going to take a step forward with his overall game, scoring at all three levels and being better defensively.”
The Blackhawks got contributions from a number of freshman last season, including Bryson Clague (9.6 ppg) and Brock Heffner (7.1 ppg).
“Bryson’s shot is great, but he really worked on his ball handling and ability to create off the the bounce,” said James. “He’s becoming a three-level scorer.
“We really looked at Brock to play some point guard for us in the summer because of his ability to handle the ball at his size. We’re looking at him to play some point forward.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Tsui played the final nine games of the season on varsity after being brought up from the JV squad.
“Really smart, crafty skilled guard,” said James. “He can shoot the ball a little bit, but he’s got a really good feel for the game.”
James also mentioned senior Jaden Pollack, who was second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.7 points per game.
“He’s an attacking guard, mid-range scorer,” James said. “I think he’ll have a strong senior season.”
Grafton finished tied for last in the North Shore Conference last season, but lost nine games by 10 points or less. James put it simply when asked what the biggest key to a turnaround would be this season…closing in crunch time.
“Winning close, meaningful games,” said James. “We did that in the summer, but summer is summer. It’s winning those games from December to March.
“We were in some close games last year, but we made some youth decisions. Now, we’ll see if the maturity takes over.”
Aside from Nicolet, perhaps no team in the North Shore Conference has the ability to improve the way Grafton can. With a good mix of seniors and sophomores who have the potential to make some substantial jumps in their play, the Blackhawks that were probably better than what their record reflected last season and have the potential to be above .500 or better in 2018-19.
“It came down to maybe three, four, five possessions or two or three-minute stretches that made a difference,” James said of close losses. “Again, I really think it came down to some of that youth factor. I don’t want to put it all on that — the kids are resilient, they’re fighters, which is why we were able to be in some of those games.
“I don’t think that’s going to change. They’ve bought into the program and what we’re trying to do.”