Whitefish Bay vs. Nicolet: Fight to the Finish
Friday night took me to one of my favorite high school venues, the Whitefish Bay fieldhouse, as Whitefish Bay played host to Nicolet in a North Shore Conference showdown. I had given some thought to trying to check out Milwaukee King’s all-star line-up making only it’s second Wisconsin appearance of the year (at Milwaukee Tech) that night, but decided upon the Bay-Nicolet game largely because I already knew someone that was going. For me, that meant less time for me trying to convince a random friend that watching a high school basketball game would be a worthwhile experience. And it turned out to be a solid decision, as most of King’s regular rotation spent the evening suspended, and I saw a game that went down to the wire. It’s nice to get lucky like that from time to time. Game thoughts below:
1) I suspect that Whitefish Bay and Nicolet are each other’s primary rivals, but I’m not well-schooled enough in the habits of either community to really know. It would make sense, as they have always seemed to be the two most affluent and academically rigorous public schools in the Milwaukee area, and both have fielded some very good basketball teams over the last decade or so. Even if this wasn’t a big time rivalry, it was probably the best high school atmosphere that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this year, with two loud, excited student section, and a sizable crowd that was not dwarfed by the huge fieldhouse. You could feel the excitement in the air.
2) I was going to say this after the Whitefish Bay-Milwaukee Lutheran game earlier last week (wow, there’s lots of good teams in the North Shore this year), so I can’t let the opportunity pass now. There’s no better guard that I’ve seen this year, in terms of setting up his teammates, than Whitefish Bay’s Steve Gruber. Gruber doesn’t look like a prototypical basketball player. He’s usually one of the smallest guys on the floor, and he’s far from having the most raw physical talent on the court, but he always seem to put his teammates in the right place to score. I can think of few high school players that are more fun to watch.
3) Speaking of setting up teammates, I was pleased to see Whitefish Bay taking advantage of the fact that they have a solid big man in Matt Schneck. At times during the game that I saw earlier in the week, they didn’t seem to use him enough (despite Wednesday’s Journal Sentinel article’s assertion that Whitefish Bay beat Milwaukee Lutheran on the blocks, that’s not exactly how I saw it). But Schneck did some damage to Nicolet on Friday night when they looked to him. He’s a good finisher.
4) Along those same lines, I didn’t know much about Nicolet’s Corey Stewart, but he did an admirable job playing as an undersized big man. He, and teammate Ryan Thomas were the anchors for Nicolet’s offense. Both were fairly smooth players, though Thomas had quite a bit mor bulk to him and was definitely one of the more physically strong players that I’ve seen this year.
5) Kudos to whoever was running the sound system at Whitefish Bay on Friday. There was music during pretty much every time-out, with the high point being sometime in the second quarter when "Kung-Fu Fighting" came on over the speakers. If there’s a crowd out there that doesn’t get at least somewhat excited for the Carl Douglas classic, I’ve yet to see it.
6) Whitefish Bay’s Sherrod Smith looks a lot stronger than he was last year, and always seems to put up 20 points in a quiet manner. Friday was no exception, as he tossed in 16 points, few of which I can actually recall seeing.
7) For a night with so much potential for awesome uniforms, I was somewhat let down. First, Nicolet actually had some good looking navy blue road uniforms, but disappointed me nonetheless, since powder blue is also a part of their color scheme. Quite simply, if powder blue can be your primary uniform color, I don’t know how you can pass it up. Passing up powder blue when navy is your secondary color is not as egregious a foul as, say, passing up powder blue as your primary color when your colors are powder blue and red (yeah, I’m looking in your general direction, Hartland Arrowhead), but it still hurts. As for Whitefish Bay, once could see an old jersey or two in the crowd from the days when Whitefish Bay, whose nickname is the "Blue Dukes," patterned their uniforms after those worn by Duke university. Instead of "Duke" being on the front of the jersey, the word "Dukes" would be there. One of the more entertaining ideas I’ve ever seen, I have no idea why they got away from this.
8) A tight game throughout, the game was decided at the very end as a tie was broken by reserve forward Joey Melton, who scored his only points of the game, a lay-up on the right block, with 3 seconds left in the game. Not bad timing, if you ask me. Nicolet simply didn’t have enough time to get off anything more than a desperation shot after that.
And with the exciting finish, the Bay fans rushed the floor and celebrated at half court. It had already been a solid night of hoops, and a great atmosphere, but it didn’t get much better than this. As the students dispersed, I bid my friend farewell, waded through the sea of kids, and headed back to my car, content that I had seen one of the best games in the area. Whitefish Bay clearly has the inside track in the North Shore, but with the number of talented teams in the conference, anything could happen.