Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Braving the Weather For Some Hoops

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself last night, given an array of game choices, and the obstacles posed by the major snow storm entering the Milwaukee area last evening. The obvious choice was to head down to the Bradley Center for the Marquette-UWM game, a contest that I look forward to each season. However, with the fear that downtown could be a mess with the oncoming onslaught of snow, the prospect of a nearby high school game was also an intriguing, and less treacherous option. I also gave some thought to just staying home and staying out of the weather mess altogether. After all, better safe than sorry, right?

Ultimately, I opted for my second choice, and headed out to my first high school game of the year at Marquette High. The Hilltoppers hosted Menomonee Falls in a showdown of two of the favorites in the wide-open Greater Metro Conference race. My rationale behind the choice was multi-faceted. First, a trip to Marquette High would be shorter and easier for me than heading downtown, where the combination of snow and parking ramps was sure to cause minor gridlock. Second, I had to test out the weather early on last night, as my beloved 1999 Mystique that took me to so many games died this summer, and I wanted to see how my new vehicle handled in the snow before things got too bad. Third, with the Marquette-UWM game on TV, I could take in the high school game early, and be home in plenty of time for the local college game as a nightcap on the DVR. Finally, the combination of weather scaring off fans, a general lack of awareness by fans of early season games, and a huge Marquette gym led me to conclude that this might be one of the few opportunities to see rising Menomonee Falls star J.P. Tokoto this year without finding myself crammed in a crowded gym next to random parents berating referees. What can I say–I like my space.

For the most part, I think I made the right call. The game was easy in and easy out (well, as easy as it could be, given that it occurred during the start of the first snowstorm of the year) and it provided me an early look at two teams of interest. The post-game look at Marquette-UWM didn’t quite work out, as my Directv feed went out due to heavy snow on my dish. I’m mildly bitter about that, but will concede that I’d be much more upset had I not seen an entertaining game earlier in the evening.

The evening’s thoughts below:

1) J.P. Tokoto may be the most widely talked about player in the state, but because his name isn’t pronounced in the way that you would intuitively say it when reading it, announcers sometimes don’t get it right (for the record, based on what announcers have been saying, I’m led to believe that it’s pronounced toke-a-toe). Tonight’s public address announcer slipped up during player introductions and audibly apologized. It sort of reminds me of when I went to games as a kid and even the home announcer couldn’t figure out how the heck to pronounce Gary Grzesk’s name during his sophomore year in high school. It’s sort of amusing to get to see a player that everyone knows is great, but who’s so new that few know the most basic facts about him yet.

2) I was sort of surprised to see Marquette go nearly the entire first quarter without subbing a single player in. I found this unusual for two reasons. First, one of the things that I always notice about Marquette is that their coach tends to go deep into the team’s bench and sub freely, something that’s kind of nice to see with a high school team (particularly one that’s typically competitive, like Marquette). Second, even teams that don’t sub much tend to slip players in and out of the game more freely early in the season as they try to find a team identity. Marquette went 9 or 10 deep by the end of the night, but it wasn’t as busy a night at the scorer’s table as I’ve seen in nights past.

3) It’s going to be a busy night in the laundry room for the Marquette team today, as both Quinten Calloway and John Korpiva had to change jerseys at separate points during the game, presumably because of blood ending up on their originals. Calloway’s jersey change took far too long, as a Marquette assistant coach went to the locker room to grab the spare, and for reasons that I still don’t understand, the referees did not re-start play promptly after removing Calloway from the game to deal with the issue. It seemed inappropriate to stop play for the extended amount of time that they did, and there seemed to be no point to the long break when ultimately, Calloway was not allowed to immediately re-enter the game after finally changing jerseys. The end result was neither coach looking happy with the situation, and attendees like myself grew frustrated sitting around with no action going on. Thankfully, Korpiva’s jersey swap later in the game was no distraction at all, as I didn’t even notice that it had happened until after the fact.

4) Marquette will miss the inside presence of Garrett Maloney, who graduated last year, but John Korpiva looks up to the task of filling in down low. Korpiva isn’t quite as crafty as Maloney was (who is?), but he’s a better athlete (as evidenced by a near-block on Tokoto’s first dunk attempt) and should be a very solid player by the time he’s done (he’s just a junior, folks).

5) While the end score will indicate that this one was a rout, that’s not exactly how things went down. At the end of the first half, I believe the game was either tied or within one point. Falls really pulled away in the third quarter, though, going on a nice run as they turned up some full court pressure on Marquette. Interestingly, I’m not sure that J.P. Tokoto, their star player, even scored a point in the major run of the game (he very well may have, but he clearly wasn’t the focal point). While Tokoto is clearly the most talented guy on the floor, the guards at Falls are no slouches either, and this was their game last night. I recalled liking John Cording last year, but backcourt mate Connor Cassidy was outstanding last evening, and the smallest guy on the bench, Jalen Ramey, gave the Indians some excellent minutes last night. Against a Marquette backcourt that included Quinton Calloway, one of my favorite surprises of last season, it was a very nice performance. For all the talk that Tokoto gets, he’s clearly got some support from good players who have varsity experience.

6) Okay, enough about the Falls guards–how did J.P. Tokoto play last night? (Yeah, I know that’s what most of you really want to read about.) The box score says he had 19 points, and I’d guess he fell just short of 10 rebounds. His gifts are still obvious. He can jump higher and more quickly than anyone else on the floor (yes, he had a handful of dunks), he’s got a solid mid-range shot, and he has a sweet touch around the rim. Last night he settled for a few outside shots without even looking to attack in other ways, simply because he could shoot over the top of his defenders so easily. There were also quite a few instances of him trying to dribble upcourt with 2-3 defenders surrounding him, a recipe for disaster for even the best ball handlers. With all the hype, you sometimes forget that Tokoto is just starting his sophomore season, and is going to have a bad habit or two simply because he’s so young. But I expect that he’ll get those minor issues worked out in no time, as he is definitely not overhyped.

7) It was sort of a downer of a game from an atmosphere standpoint. The snowstorm kept the crowd somewhat sparse, and it being the first home game of the year for Marquette, there were no halftime contests or other non-game related attempts at entertainment. The only semi-entertaining crowd activity was a Falls student repeatedly attempting to taunt one of Marquette’s star football players who was sitting across the gym in the crowd. And that was only amusing because it was such a poor attempt at taunting. (FYI, potential taunters, every student at Marquette High has had someone point out to them that there are no girls at their school. They’re aware of it. It’s a fact that’s irrelevant to any sports situation, and is completely unoriginal. And I say this as someone who was usually looking to run down Marquette during my student days.)

8) Last evening contained two of the most confusing jump ball calls that I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure that a player from Falls got a shot off while a jump ball was called at one point last night.

9) I’m hoping that both teams spend a decent portion of this next week working on their foul shooting. I can’t recall ever seeing a game that contained so many instances of a player heading to the line and missing two straight shots. There were some absolute bricks (not to mention an airball) thrown up, too. It’s early, so there’s time to right the ship, but neither team should be proud of how they looked from the line last night.

10) I get the sense that Menomonee Falls guard Kevin Scroggins is very well-liked by his teammates, due to the audible disappointment displayed by the bench when Scroggins missed the first of his foul shots after being inserted to close out the game with around two minutes to go.

And as the public address announcer sent the crowd off with the words “May all your snowblowers start on the first pull,” (a legitimately nice line, I must say) I headed out into the winter air to brush off my car and head home. My new ride got me home safely, and I had seen a good game. Not a bad night, even though the DVR failed to record the big game of the evening. Perhaps I can catch the replay of it tonight if I get done shoveling in time...


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