St. John's vs. Milwaukee Lutheran: The Real Tourney Games Begin
I spent my Thursday night out at the Homestead High School fieldhouse watching the high school division two sectional semifinal game between Milwaukee Lutheran and St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. In a strong Milwaukee sectional, these were arguably the two best remaining teams (though New Berlin Eisenhower may have something to say about that on Saturday). The marquee game in the area (and perhaps the state?) last evening, it was a draw that filled the sizable Homestead fieldhouse to the point where numerous fans ended up standing along the baseline. For a game that was expected to be as good as this one, it was only fitting that it be held in what is, in my estimation, the nicest of the handful of new fieldhouses built by local high schools in recent years. The game, and the venue lived up to the billing, with St. John’s bringing home a two point win to advance to the sectional finals. Notes below:
1) As a friend and I walked towards the gym, we found ourselves directly in front of a group of Milwaukee Lutheran students. I heard one of the students, as she was peering at the entrance to Homestead, ask her friend in a tone that seemed shockingly un-ironic given the question, "Is this sort of a ghetto school?" Apparently this girl must not get out much, leading to her unfamiliarity with the fact that Mequon is one of the more affluent communities in the Milwaukee area. To her friend’s credit, he quickly made fun of her, which is what good friends do when you say something stupid.
2) Minutes before the game started, the cadets from St. Johns Military Academy entered the gym and filed into their section of the fieldhouse. With the exception of a small contingent that were wearing "6th man" t-shirts, the entire section was in uniform. Sort of like what you see at the Army-Navy game. It’s not every day that you get to see a student section in military uniforms, and as my friend Gus noted, it would be kind of a cool thing to see a the state tournament. Given that St. John’s won, there’s a pretty good chance that we could see this unique sight.
3) While the cadets were certainly a unique student section, it bears noting that Milwaukee Lutheran, in the three times that I have seen them this year, has brought one of the most massive and most spirited student sections that I have encountered this year. I almost feel a little bad for fans that solid that they won’t get the chance to head to Madison and see their team.
4) As I noted, the gym was packed. Conspicuously in attendance and watching from one of the baselines were a handful of players from Milwaukee Vincent and Wauwatosa East. You’ve got to love the fact that this game was big enough that players from schools that have no direct interest in the game (Vincent and Tosa East are in a different division than Lutheran and St. John’s, though I suppose there could be some inter-team friendships) would still come out to watch, anyway. That’s just how big this game was.
5) Last night, for the first time since I saw former Brookfield Central basketball player and current Wisconsin football player Joe Thomas play hoops, I saw a player who could without question kick my ass if we ever met and got into an altercation (Note–undoubtedly there are tons of high school kids who could kick my ass, but with most of them there would be at least maybe a 2% question as to whether they could do it.) That player was St. John’s forward Marcus Melvin. Melvin’s muscular 6'3" frame and physical play have to make him intimidating to opposing forwards, most of whom I must assume are taller than Melvin. As with most guys who are so frighteningly strong, Melvin also appeared to be a pretty good ball player, putting up one of the better rebounding performances that I’ve seen this year, and generally patrolling the lane well last evening.
6) I’m still sort of angry at myself for making this game the first time all year that I’ve seen Trevon Hughes play. Nonetheless, at least I got to see him live once (and perhaps will get to see more if St. John’s gets to state). And I guarantee the venue and the opposition was much better than when I saw him play one half of basketball against tiny Lake Country Lutheran in an elementary school gym last year. My thoughts? He’s lightning quick, and has a better outside shot than I had anticipated. He wasn’t a huge factor on defense, and tended to try to do a few too many tricky things for my liking, but when he wasn’t looking to do the spectacular, he would occasionally have one of those "How the hell did that guy do that?" moments in the flow of the game. My friend Gus, who’s usually a bigger Wauwatosa homer than I, was convinced after the first quarter that Hughes should be player of the year over Jerry Smith. I don’t think I agree with that assessment (recognizing, of course, that I am inherently biased toward Smith), but there’s little doubt that Hughes is a nice find for Wisconsin.
7) Top cheer of the night came after a break-away layup by St. John’s Martin Esters. The cadets from St. John’s began chanting "That’s Our German!" in reference to Esters’ German roots prior to enrolling at St. John’s.
8) The St. John’s student section, going in a different direction than the standard "Defense, Defense!" cheer that so many crowds do, spent most of the evening instead chanting "Offense, Offense!" On one level, it was a mildly creative cheer that brought a grin to my face. On another level, it was sort of off-putting to see a large group of young men in military attire calling for more offense. I thought the military was supposed to be primarily an organization based in defense. Hence, the "Department of Defense." My mistake, I guess.
9) One of the great facets of the Homestead fieldhouse is an open area above the bleachers on the far wall where there’s a series of windows allowing for taping of the game, and general observation by people with official duties. It’s sort of like a mini press-type area. Maybe the most entertaining of the folks using this area last night was a student statistician for Milwaukee Lutheran. After one particularly excellent Lutheran stretch, I observed the stat guy leap out of his chair as St. John’s called time-out, after which he began dancing to the hip-hop music being piped into the gym. That’s some real emotion there, because as much as I love basketball, I’d have to sheepishly admit that if I was taking stats across the gym from most of my friends, I probably wouldn’t be apt to leap from my chair like that. So my compliments to the stat guy for being a true fan, and showing some emotion even when a couple hundred of his friends weren’t sitting right next to him.
10) Scariest moment of the game came when Trevon Hughes got tangled up with a Milwaukee Lutheran defender after a layup, and ended up on the ground rolling around and clutching his leg in pain. The entire crowd rose to its feet to see how Hughes was, and I wondered for a brief moment if I had just seen the second of Wisconsin’s top two high school players go down with a season-ending injury (and out of the right corner of my eye, I peered towards the opposite baseline to see if there was any reaction from Jerry Smith, who in attendance with his cast on). Then about 10-15 seconds later, Hughes popped up effortlessly and jogged towards his bench on the opposite end of the floor. It was sort of like what you see when you accidentally end up catching two minutes of a televised soccer game where one of the players gets tripped and ends up acting like he’s been struck in the shin by a sledge hammer, before getting up and sprinting down the field moments later. Fortunately, Hughes showed no signs of pain the rest of the night.
11) I’ve talked about St. John’s star players, but Milwaukee Lutheran was also obviously very talented. Each time I have seen lanky guard Derrick Hankins, I have come away impressed (I would say "more" impressed, but Hankins was absolutely on fire the first time I saw him, so I was sold after that first game). Hankins, who’s known for his affinity for shooting threes (and for making lots of them) canned two long, ridiculous treys at the end of the game (upping his game total for three-pointers to five). The game was pretty much out of reach when he hit those shots, but that didn’t take away from how impressive they were. Travis Handy, Hankins’ backcourt mate, was also his standard impressive self. Mark down Milwaukee Lutheran’s backcourt as something that I’ll really miss seeing next year.
12) Neither I, nor anyone I was sitting with saw exactly what happened immediately following the end of the game, but there was clearly some bad blood between Derrick Hankins and Trevon Hughes upon game’s end. Luckily, teammates were smart enough to separate the two (the St. John’s teammates were necessarily more prompt and forceful at restraining their star) as they began jawing and walking towards one another, and again separate them when things looked as if they were again going to escalate during the post-game handshake line when Hankins and Hughes had to shake hands. Hughes was quickly and appropriately pulled away for a talking to by his coach after this latter near-incident. I’m not sure what could cause such a reaction, but it was disappointing to see a conflict like that nearly mar the end of a fabulous game.
With the end of one of the better high school basketball games that I’ve seen this year, I hopped back in my car and made the long, rainy drive home, where I caught the end of the West Virginia-Pittsburgh game. If Gerry McNamara has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t miss a minute of the Big East tournament if you can help it. I’ll watch my recording of Marquette sometime this weekend, even though it sounds like a painful game to see. I’m not too broken up, though, since they’re still in the tournament. I’ll get to see them a week from now, well-rested and ready to go. While I love conference tournaments, I don’t get that worked up over losses when a team’s already going to the dance.
It’s off to the Milwaukee King-Tosa East game tonight (and hopefully some good internet updates on the Wisconsin game this afternoon). It’s been a great week, and the best part is that next week only gets better...