Boys basketball team aiming high

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
C.J. Fermanich and Middleton's boys basketball team has high hopes this season./File photo

Twelve months ago, there was virtually no returning experience, there were questions everywhere and expectations were extremely low.

Boy, what a difference a year makes.

Today, Middleton’s boys basketball team is one of the more veteran-laden bunches around. And after a surprising campaign that saw the Cardinals finish third in the ultra-competitive Big Eight Conference, hopes are extremely high for the 2015-’16 season.

Middleton, which went 17-7 overall last year and 13-5 in the league, begins its season Dec. 3 at Janesville Parker.

“We are quite ahead offensively from where we were at the same point last year,” Middleton 10th year coach Kevin Bavery said. “We do have the ability to turn defense into offense and to score in a variety of ways. And we seem a lot more aggressive — in the press, on the boards, and in attacking the glass.

“We’re a long ways from getting in great shape, so bringing a tremendous approach to practice every day is going to be absolutely critical to our success. No matter how practices are structured, human nature can take over and ultimately every player is their own ‘quality control’ person. If they are willing to go hard and push one another to get to another level of fitness and conditioning, we have a chance to play the way we want to play.”

Middleton played the way Bavery hoped a year ago.

Bavery believed that depth was the strength of his team, so he substituted liberally — almost like a hockey coach — substituting four and five players at a time every two or three minutes. The goal was to wear down foes and compensate for a potential talent gap at the top of the roster.

Bavery will have the depth to play in a similar manner again. And the change from four quarters to two halves — which added four minutes to the game — should help Middleton.

But a handful of Cardinals proved to be standouts a year ago, which will make it more difficult to take them off the floor this winter.

“We did a little ‘shifting’ of all five when there was a long stretch without the clock stopping, but really tried to keep running two, three or four players in at a time,” Bavery said. “This season the change to two halves really changes the game and should fit right into what we do.

“The guys know that a lot of people will need to contribute, and getting into our opponent’s bench is part of what we are trying to do. With that said, it doesn’t mean equal minutes, but it does mean when you get your opportunity, whether it’s heavier minutes or a short stint in either or both halves, you better go hard and not be afraid to bring your strengths to the court!”

A trio of junior standouts — forward Tyree Eady and guards Storm Murphy and C.J. Fermanich — will lead Middleton.

Eady was Middleton’s leading scorer last season (11.7) and was a second-team all-conference player. Fermanich was a steady point guard who earned honorable-mention all-conference honors.

And Murphy improved as much as anyone on the roster, and by the end of the season was arguably Middleton’s most dynamic player.

This season, all three should be even better.

“All three have changed physically,” Bavery said. “They are stronger and leaner and it shows in their ability to attack more aggressively on both ends of the court.

“They put a lot of time in their skill development as certifiable ‘gym rats.’ As long as they play hard, good things will happen for them and the attention they draw will make their teammates better as well.

“C.J. is shooting it well and attacking the basket stronger. Tyree is getting after both boards and is showing a more confident catch-and-shoot game to add to his driving ability. And Storm is at another level of confidence in all phases of his game.”

Middleton has several other key contributors and talented newcomers to add to the mix.

Senior forward/center Cody Markel led the Cardinals in rebounding last season. Senior guard Cam Maly is arguably Middleton’s top defender.

Senior forward Mitch Bacon is one of the Cardinals’ most explosive players. And senior guard Brady Thomas is a streaky, albeit deadly shooter.

Markel (broken finger), Maly (hip) and Bacon (finger) are out for the time being. Markel should be back by the Cardinals’ second or third game, while Maly and Bacon could be out until Christmas.

When they all return, Middleton’s depth should be top notch.

In the interim, several players will have a chance to shine.

Travis Raffel is a gifted combination guard who’s returning from a torn ACL. Junior forward Jack Smith brings size and athletic ability, while senior Kevin Ripp is a solid shooter.

Junior Myron Ashford is a strong rebounder, while sophomore Brogan Brunker has surprised early with his aggressive play, ability drive the ball, and rebound and score both inside and out.

Juniors Ben Jackson and Parker Sigmon both have three-point ability. Senior Jacob Ross is a solid shooter, while senior Max Collien is a high-energy player.

“We love our depth,” Bavery said. “And (the injuries) are an opportunity for others to contribute, especially early.”

Madison Memorial has won 12 straight Big Eight titles and remains the favorite. Madison East returns several players from its state qualifying team, while Sun Prairie, Janesville Craig and Madison West should have strong outfits, as well.

“We think we can play with everyone, but so many games will be decided in the final minutes that we can’t afford stretches where we don’t play hard or don’t play together,” Bavery said. “In that regard anyone is capable of beating us.”

On the flip side, Middleton is capable of beating anyone — and everyone — in the league. The Cardinals are a year older, wiser and better.

For now, Bavery won’t play the prediction game and will simply try getting his team better every day. If that happens, good things will almost certainly follow.

“Surprisingly to many, our expectations for the season remain very simple,” Bavery said. “Be great in practice every day and respect the privilege of being a part of a team.

“If we are humble in that regard, and if we are extremely coachable and do things the right way, we can be satisfied. It really is a tremendous group of young men who love the game and who are great to be around every day.

“Our entire coaching staff appreciates being able to be a part of that experience. We think that they are going to be very exciting to watch and hope that we see tremendous support from the best student body and community fans in the Big Eight.”

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