Friday, December 26, 2008

Backing Up A Week: A Snowy Night In Germantown

Last Saturday my friend T.J., one of my favorite basketball watching pals, flew into Milwaukee from his North Carolina home and we set forth on one of the longest days of basketball watching that I've done in some time. He arrived at my place just before 2pm, and the basketball didn't stop until around 11pm. Most of it involved watching an array of surprisingly good non-conference college games on TV. Another friend had sold me tickets to the Wisconsin-Coppin State game that evening, which was to be the centerpiece of the day. However, with over a foot of snow on the ground from the prior day and 5-7 more predicted for the evening, a trip to Madison was out of the question. I'm happy to burn two-and-a-half hours of travel time to get to and from a random Wisconsin non-conference game, but risking my life on snowy roads to see Coppin State head to town is where I draw the line.

So our live event of the evening boiled down to two options: UWM vs. Bradley at the MECCA, or a high school game pitting Menomonee Falls against Germantown. High school action won out because a) the Milwaukee Bucks game going on across the street from the UWM game would have made parking more annoying and expensive than it should be, b) T.J.'s fondness for Wisconsin high school hoops has intensified after his experiences with North Carolina high school hoops, and c) there were some great players and subplots involved in the Falls-Germantown game.

So we set off on a snowy drive from a sports bar in downtown Milwaukee to Germantown High School. The roads and roadside accidents along the way made me happy that we'd nixed the trip to Madison, and a bit confused at why we thought driving all the way to Germantown would be a better idea. But we lived, and to my knowledge, my car didn't hit anything. Notes from the game below (and notes from our earlier experiences will contribute to a gigantic hodgepodge of thoughts that I'll toss out this weekend):

1) To my surprise, apparently Germantown and Menomonee Falls are rivals. This obviously makes sense geographically, as the municipalities are located right next to one another, but the two schools aren’t in the same conference, and to my knowledge, have not been in the same conference as long as I’ve been alive. So it simply never occurred to me that this could be a rivalry game. Nonetheless, the rivalry factor made for a packed gym on a night that I suspect otherwise would have had folks staying home and drinking hot apple cider. And instead of a JV game preceding the varsity game, we were treated a varsity girls game. This didn't exactly make T.J. happy, as he has a bizarre hatred of high school girls basketball. As we sat down, we immediately began taking count of the number of traveling calls.

2) While the excellent attendance at the game helped the atmosphere, it did little to help me find some elbow room. My original seats for the evening were in the Germantown adult section near mid-court. This seemed an excellent place to sit until about the fourth quarter of the girls’ game, when things began to fill up. One particular mother began saving every seat that she could around us. Not wanting to be in the midst of the Germantown booster section, we changed sides during the break between games and sat anonymously on the Falls side. Unfortunately, things had begun to fill up quickly on that side as well, and the most reasonable seats that we could find were right on the edge of the Falls student section. T.J. and I found ourselves wedged between three old guy basketball junkies on our right, and three teenage girls on our left. It’s a mighty weird night when you have the option of turning to one side and striking up a conversation about Menomonee Falls legend Bob Wolf, or turning to the other side and talking about the Jonas Brothers.

3) In a down economy, I can’t think of any better deal than the 50 cent small bag of popcorn that I purchased at the Germantown concession stand. Presuming of course, that after all of the salt involved you can lay off of buying a $1.50 can of soda (which I was able to).

4) I’m not sure if the refs thought that they were getting paid by the hour, but Saturday night was the closest that I’ve ever seen to a team making it to the double bonus prior to the end of the first quarter.

5) For all the fouls that were called early on, Falls took the biggest hit, as three players from their deep stable of big men found themselves saddled with two fouls apiece. Meanwhile, stellar Germantown big man Ben Averkamp came through the first half nearly unscathed. While Falls was clearly frustrated as the refs continually gave Averkamp the benefit of the doubt, it was at least nice to see Luke Russell, the normally docile Falls big man, show some fire on the court as he was called for a quick two fouls during his early battles with Averkamp.

6) Maybe the best thing about seeing a game at Germantown is the use the chime sound effect, like at Milwaukee Bucks’ games, following a made foul shot. I still can’t decide whether it’s so cheesy that it’s cool, or if it’s just cheesy (like most things taken from the NBA). Either way, it led to the most entertaining pair of foul shots that I’ve ever seen, when Germantown forward Bryan Keys banked in his first foul shot, garnering the chimes, and then had his second shot get trapped between the backboard and the rim. I’m almost wondering if the second shot may have been a piece of well-played strategy by Keys, though, as Germantown got the ball back via the possession arrow and scored in the subsequent possession.

7) I give credit to the staff at Germantown, as they put forth a great deal of effort with their sound system, playing sound cues like the chimes, and piping in popular music during time-outs to keep the crowd excited. I rarely see things like that at the high school level, and find myself much more likely to see such displays at division three games. All that said, the sound work still can't fix the fact that Germantown's gym seems to be one of the most bland spaces to watch a high school basketball game. Perhaps I'm biased due to my unfortunate incident there as a high school freshman, but Germantown is one of the few gyms that I've been to that just feels like there's nothing special about it, no matter how good the team is, or how much effort the staff puts into making the game itself entertaining (which it certainly was).

8) Obviously people know that Ben Averkamp is one of the top post players in the state, but I was surprised at how capable Germantown’s other 6'8" player, Michael Laubenheimer was. Averkamp and Laubenheimer were able to find each other several times using a nice high-low game. Menomonee Falls isn’t exactly a small team, with four talented players 6'5" or taller in its rotation, so I can only imagine how Germantown’s twin towers must do against normally-sized squads.

9_ I’ve only seen J.P. Tokoto play twice, but I’m officially sold on him after this game. T.J. and I spent part of the game trying to figure out if he which was his dominant hand (I hadn’t come to a definitive conclusion after the first time that I’d seen him), which is sort of a nice thing to be confused about with a high school freshmen. Right now, my highly untrained eye is as excited about Tokoto as any freshman that I can recall seeing. In another year or so, I assume we'll start to hear some interesting recruiting talk.

And with Germantown eeking out a hard fought win in a game that was in doubt nearly to the end, T.J. and I headed back to the car to brush off the snow and head home to watch more hoops. After all, isn't that the best way to end a great evening? (We may or may not have also enjoyed an episode of Hurl!, a TV show that's guaranteed to drop one's IQ by 40 points after only one viewing.)

More to share in the next day or two as I gather my general thoughts on the various things that I've seen and not commented on this year (lots of random college thoughts), and as I hopefully attend my first set of high school basketball games in the state of New York.


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