Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Multitude of Dieners

Well, today was a huge day in hoops around Milwaukee. Before I get to my games of the night, it must be noted that today was a dark day for Marquette, as superstar guard Travis Diener is officially done for the season due to a broken hand suffered in practice. I guess it was just a freak injury. While you never like to see someone injured, this one hurts even more, as Marquette was still sort of battling for an NCAA birth (though I think the chances of that were hovering around 10%, anyway) and Diener was close to becoming Marquette's all-time leading scorer. While I'm still a relatively young 27 years old, I can't think of too many players that I've seen come though this state who ended up being as special as Diener. My earliest memory of Diener came before I even knew who he was. I was working at a summer camp (non-basketball related) back around 1997 or so, and had encountered a student that was particularly tough to deal with. Since I knew he was from Fond du Lac, and I knew that they had a good basketball team, I tried to connect with him by talking about Drew Diener, Travis's cousin, who was one of the state's big division one recruits that year. My attempt to talk to the kid worked, and he started talking about how there were two Diener's that were a few years younger that were easily going to end up better than Drew. I laughed the kid off at the time, since Drew Diener was one of the best players in Wisconsin. Well, it turns out that annoying kid was right--Drake Diener's better than his older brother, and Travis is the best of the lot. I hate to see him go out like this, and he certainly deserves better after the career he's had, but he'll always be looked upon as one of Marquette's best. And I fully expect him to either bounce around the NBA on short-term contracts for ahwile, or make some good money overseas.

Enough of eulogizing Travis Diener, though--tonight held plenty of exciting basketball in the city of Milwaukee, and there was even another Diener involved. Indeed, it was the annual conference showdown between Milwaukee Vincent (coached by Tom Diener, a Diener uncle) and Milwaukee King, the City Conference's two powerhouses, and Wisconsin's two most notable teams on the national scene. Neither team has done exactly as well as they should have this year, with Vincent having dropped one City Conference game coming into the meeting, and King having dropped two within the conference. Nonetheless, I don't think anyone would dispute that this is THE game in high school basketball in the Milwaukee area. Now that Milwaukee Washington seems to have officially lost its role as a consistent power, this is more true than ever. Since this is a game that pretty much requires that you have some affiliation with one of the schools if you want to make it in the door, I knew I wasn't going. However, much to my delight, there was going to be a live radio broadcast. So, in the most pathetic basketball-related move since, well, last Friday when I went to an elementary school gym on my own to watch a prospect, I stayed in to listen to a high school game on the radio. Here's what I could discern from the radio broadcast, and some other random high school basketball points:

1) According the the broadcasters, King was doing a phenomenal job of double-teaming Vincent's Marcus Landry. In fact, Landry netted something in the neighborhood of 18-20 points, but I don't think that he had one of his top nights. The announcers noted that he likely would have to hit the weight room a bit and improve his strength before suiting up for Wisconsin next year. I can't see why Landry wouldn't be looking to hit the weights, either--it seems to be something that worked very well for his older brother Carl.

2) While I realized that two of King's top players were freshmen (including Korie Lucious, considered by some to be the top player in his class nationally), I had no concept of what an integral part of their team these two guys are. Lucious made several clutch plays, and the ball was appropriately in his hands as King held the ball for one last shot at the end of regulation. If he and fellow freshman Bryan Brown don't bolt for prep schools, King is going to be scary-good in 3 years. I'm still dying to actually see these guys play, but they sounded incredible tonight, and that impression comes in spite of announcers that didn't seem to particularly like either of them.

3) Elliot Johnson, who transferred in to Vincent for his senior year, threw down a bunch of alley-oop dunks, and if I were to guess, I'd say that he was one of Vincent's top scorers on the evening, even though he couldn't seem to get a foul shot to fall all night. Not bad when you can get one of your best efforts from a guy who was playing at a totally different school the prior year.

4) The outcome of the game? Well, it couldn't have been much more exciting. With the game tied, King had the ball with 12 seconds left, and held the ball until about the 3 second mark, when Lucious dished the ball to forward James Pruitt, who drilled a 3-pointer to defeat Vincent. The announcers, and apparently the crowd, all went wild. I only heard it on the radio, but this one lived up to its billing. And for the record, I was expecting Vincent to win, so I was, as usual, wrong.

5) For awhile, though, it didn't look like the game would live up to its billing. King got a quick lead and dominated the first half, going to the locker room with a 10-point lead. There wasn't much movement until the end of the third quarter, when King began a 12-0 run that bled into the fourth quater. In the final minutes, it was just a hard-fought basketball game.

6) Lots of time on the broadcast was devoted to talking about the upcoming state tournament, and how King had received the #3 seed in the regionals behind Milwaukee Pius (1) and Wauwatosa East (2). The announcers kept noting that King was probably the best #3 seed ever in a regional in Wisconsin. And that's probably correct, but the seedings are probably correct, as well. To the credit of King coach Jim Gosz (who I'm normally not very quick to give credit to, so remember this moment), in his post-game interview he pretty much stated that there wasn't much he could do about seedings, and that any of the aforementioned teams could have legitimately been called a #1 seed. However you look at it, I'm going to greatly enjoy next weekend when regionals begin, and I'm sitting cramped up in the bleachers of a tiny gym watching (barring a tremendous upset) two of the state's top high school teams battle one another. While I love the state tournament, I think I love watching the teams in Milwaukee's toughest sectional battle just to get to the state tournament even more. And I would even argue that this is sort of a down year for good old Sectional #8.

So that's high school basketball in Milwaukee tonight. I'd have love to have been there, but at least I will be next weekend. And I suppose that it was some consolation that I was able to watch the hotly contested Duke-Geogia Tech game while I listened to the radio. Speaking of ESPN games, I've got to go--Villanova's looking like they're going to knock off Boston College (which will be a really stupid line tomorrow if they blow the game, now).


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