Great expectations for boys basketball team

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Tyree Eady and Middleton's boys basketball team are the Big Eight Conference favorites this season,/File photo

Few members of the Middleton boys basketball community have seen more than Jerry Raffel.

Raffel, the Cardinals’ top assistant coach, joined the great John Boyle’s staff in 1991. He stayed on board when Kevin Bavery replaced a retiring Boyle in 2006.

Now, set to begin his 26th season inside the Middleton program, Raffel is a walking expert in modern history.

So when Raffel offers up the following opinion, you listen. Closely.

“The buzz we have right now, we didn’t have that in ’98 until we were three-quarters of the way through the season,” Raffel said, referring to the last Middleton team that reached the state tournament. “Right now, I’ve never seen a more energized team than this. And this group is every bit as good as that ’98 team was. It’s really exciting.”

And how.

The night before Middleton’s first practice, Bavery was getting texts from current and former players that were giddy about the start of this journey.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” Bavery said. “We’re all pretty fired up.”

With good reason.

Middleton returns its top six scorers from last season’s team that went 19-5 and won a share of the Big Eight Conference title for the first time in 15 years. Senior forward Tyree Eady (North Dakota State) and senior point guard Storm Murphy (Wofford) are returning first-team all-conference players that have already chosen their colleges for next season.

There’s an experienced nucleus around Middleton’s standouts and a group of newcomers ready to make their mark. And the Cardinals have been tabbed the Big Eight favorite and are ranked No. 4 in a preseason poll at Wissports.net.

“I think we’re all really pumped,” Murphy said. “I think we all showed last year the kind of team we are and the kind of team we can be.

“But we all know it’s going to be even harder than it was last year. Teams are going to be gunning for us. So we need to be really focused and push each other harder than ever.”

That shouldn't be a problem with the veteran leadership Middleton brings back.

Senior guard C.J. Fermanich is a four-year varsity player and one of the top athletes in the conference. Murphy and Eady are in their third varsity seasons.

Together, the trio gives Middleton the type of leadership, experience and court awareness most programs can only dream of.

“It’s my third year on varsity and I’m just really excited to lead this year,” said Eady, who carries a 3.9 grade point average. “With me and Storm and C.J., we should have great leadership.

“I think my (senior) class has helped start to shine the light on Middleton basketball. Now we want to shine it even brighter.”

If that happens, Eady and Murphy will almost certainly be at the forefront.

Eady led the Big Eight in scoring last year at 20.6 points per game, was a first-team all-league player and a third-team all-state selection. Eady was also Middleton’s top rebounder (5.1), led the team in steals (3.1) and added 1.8 assists per game.

Eady grew two inches since last year and is now a muscular, yet remarkably athletic 6-foot-5.

“He’s a man,” Raffel said.

Murphy finished second in the league in scoring last year (18.4), led the Cardinals in assists (4.4) and was second in steals (2.0). Murphy has taken on a vocal leadership role in practice, and Bavery believes his point guard is ready for a monster senior season.

“Storm has had a lot of eyeballs on him for a while,” Bavery said, referring to the recruiting process. “And he’s had some opportunities with his summer team that not everybody gets. You can see already it’s made him a much, much better player.”

Fermanich has the most varsity experience of the group and should be poised for a big final year. Last season, Fermanich averaged 11.7 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals.

Senior forward Jack Smith was Middleton’s defensive MVP last season, while junior forward Brogan Brunker (7.5 ppg) is a budding star trying to make it back from an offseason injury. Senior wing Myron Ashford (4.5 ppg) also gave the Cardinals a lift off the bench last year.

“Returning your top six scorers?” Bavery asked. “That’s pretty much unheard of.”

Last year’s senior class did many of the little things that helped the younger players shine. While that group didn’t have statistics that jumped off the page, their contributions were vital to the Cardinals’ success.

Bavery is trying to figure what players could assume those roles this season and has been impressed by many of the candidates.

“It’s a good junior class,” Bavery said. “We’ll definitely get some help from a lot of those guys.”

A year ago, Middleton began the season 14-0, but lost five of 10 down the stretch.

One setback was a home loss to Janesville Craig in the regular season finale that prevented the Cardinals from capturing sole possession of the conference title. One was a home setback to Madison West in the regional finals.

“We might have gotten a little too full of ourselves,” Eady said. “But I just know this summer, I thought about Craig and West every day. That really helped drive me.”

Many expect the Big Eight to be as good as it’s been in years.

Madison Memorial returns all five starters and is ranked No. 5 by Wissports. Madison East loses league Player of the Year Deang Deang, but has a veteran group back and is ranked No. 9. Janesville Craig, which has one of the state’s top backcourts, is ranked No. 10.

Still, most consider Middleton the team to beat.

“The high expectations are a privilege,” Bavery said. “It shows we did some good things last season.

“But this was a really young league last year and there’s a lot of great talent coming back. I think it’s the best it’s been top to bottom since I got here.”

Murphy, a gym rat whose love for the game is akin to a child’s love for Christmas, rattled off the teams currently ranked ahead of Middleton in the statewide poll.

Murphy then cracked a wry smile when asked about the chance of passing that group — and everyone else in the state this season.

“That’s the goal,” Murphy said. “It has to be.

“It’s an exciting time. We kind of know the community and the people of Middleton are all watching, and that’s really exciting.”

Almost as exciting as the new season promises to be.

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