UW-Milwaukee vs. UW-Parkside: The Season Begins
The season officially got underway for me last night, as my friend Dez and I (our other fellow-season ticket holders were tied up with other things last evening) headed down to the Klotsche Center to watch UWM take on Division II UW-Parkside in an exhibition game. The game was more hotly contested than expected, with Parkside jumping out to a 15-point lead at the half. The Panthers clawed their way back into the game with pressure defense in the second half, however, and pulled out a hard-fought 68-67 win. I’m unconcerned with that outcome, though, as UWM generally looked solid once they shook off the slow start. Now I’m ready for some regular season action. For the time being, though, thoughts on last night are below:
1) I got everything that I was looking for from the first Klotsche Center experience of the year. I was able to park on the street for free, at the entrance to the gym they took the old-school step of ripping tickets rather than scanning them, and the turnout was actually pretty good for a Monday night exhibition game. Oh, and I nearly got trampled by the team running out to the floor while walking to my seat after grabbing a roster. I think I’m going to like the Klotsche Center.
2) Great uniforms all-around last night. I liked the boldness of the UWM home gold unis, and will definitely purchase a jersey, should the bookstore ever begin selling such items again in the future. As for Parkside, they wore the standard 2012 baggy shorts, but their scoop-neck jerseys looked like they’d been transported straight from 1989. And for the record, I do not consider that a bad thing.
3) UWM had a big hole to fill at the point guard spot with the graduation of Kaylon Williams, arguably the team’s best player last season. I’m happy to say that the point guard spot looks to be in good hands with junior college transfer Jordan Aaron. A completely different player than Williams, Aaron is a small, quick player who likes to get into the lane. He also displayed a nice shooting touch last night, and sealed the game with some clutch free throws at the end. If last night was any indicator, Panther fans are going to really enjoy Aaron for the next two years.
4) I was also impressed with freshman Austin Arians, who received a smattering of minutes off the bench. It didn’t hurt that Arians’ first minute of action saw him involved in a Panther fastbreak play that involved two perfect passes, a dunk, and was so smooth that it looked like it was something out of a Harlem Globetrotters routine. Arians’ biggest weakness? He has a nervous habit of constantly shifting his mouth guard around, which makes him look kind of dumb at times.
5) The Panthers’ top returning player is arguably James Haarsma, who probably only played 15-20 minutes last night. While a lot of people left worried about the near loss to a Division II school last night, I left thinking that Haarsma’s lack of minutes last night was probably just an indicator that Rob Jeter was playing around and trying to figure out his rotation.
6) The Parkside roster is a curious one. Parkside is the state’s only NCAA Division II school, so one would think that it would be a haven for Wisconsin kids who couldn’t quite secure a Division I scholarship. In fact, there are only three Wisconsin natives on the roster, with the bulk of the team made up of players from just across the border in Illinois. And then there’s a guy from Maine and a dude from Arizona. I’m still scratching my head at how they ended up at Parkside, a school whose existence I was completely unaware of when I was a high school senior living just 45 minutes away.
7) It was five minutes into the game when my Dez spotted a guy that we quickly realized was likely to keep us entertained all year. He was alone behind the basket angrily yelling at UWM players to pick up their effort. His pleas were very noticeable in the small confines of the Klotsche Center. Throughout the game, he vacillated between waving his arms to pump up the crowd (undeterred by the fact that no one was paying attention to him) and checking something on the iPad that he was carrying around. There’s going to be some high emotion coming from this guy all year, and I’m glad I’m going to be there to see a lot of it.
8) I’m not quite sure what to say about the alternate uniforms that UWM’s dance team changed into for its halftime performance last night. They looked sort of unfinished, and I felt like I saw a lot more of the members of the dance team than I was supposed to. Not that I’m complaining, but I think we’ve hit a new level for revealing college dance team uniforms.
9) One thing that I’m glad made the move from the U.S. Cellular Arena to the Klotsche Center with the Panthers is public address announcer Bob Brainerd. For years, I felt like Brainerd was probably a guy that took himself a bit too seriously for a moderately successful local sports media personality. But with every overly bombastic announcement of Christian Wolf’s name, I’m starting to understand that when we laugh at Brainerd, he’s in on the joke with us.
10) The winner of the halftime lightning contest was dressed like my best friend in second grade always was. Kudos to Bob Brainerd for noticing this as well, and offering up a " nice sweater" comment over the public address system while announcing the victory.
11) It’s going to be tough to get an earlier foul-out this season than Parkside’s Kevin Senechalle, who picked up his fifth at the 16 minute timeout in the second half.
12) I’m encouraged that this year’s UWM team will be more exciting to watch than recent past versions, mostly because half of the team appears to have no regard for their own safety while taking the ball strong to the hoop.
13) A few years back when Popeye’s Fried Chicken sponsored the Panthers, there was an entertaining promotion where if UWM managed to dunk the ball five times in a game, everyone was entitled to a free meal at Popeye’s. While that deal is long since dead, I’m pleased to report that a similar deal was in place last night. Four Panther dunks was to result in free chips and queso at any local Qdoba. The dunk threshold was not met last night (the team stalled at two), though I’m not overly disappointed. I kind of suspect that if I ever took my ticket stub to any Qdoba other than the one on Oakland Avenue near UWM the day after a UWM win that they’d just look at me like I was making that promotion up.
14) I’m going to admit to not even noticing that Demetrius Harris was on the Panther roster last year. He’s a starter this year, though, and is the most impressive physical specimen on the team. He led the team in points last night (despite an awful foul shooting evening), and I’m confident that he’ll lead the team in rebounding this season. Unfortunately, that rebounding prediction is only partially a compliment, as part of Harris’s big rebounding numbers will be due to the fact that he tends to get lots of rebounds off of his own misses.
15) Seeing as Parkside played well last night, it seems only fair to credit its top players. Forward Jeremy Saffold appeared to be the most talented guy on the roster, though teammate Conrad Krutwig had a big scoring night and was the game’s high scorer. A senior with a receding hairline, next year Krutwig is likely to be a dominant rec league player once his college career is over. His combination of height, youth, and crafty veteran moves will ensure that he’s rightfully first picked in virtually every pickup game that he plays in over the next five years.
16) After the game, Dez and I headed to a nearby bar for a post-game beer. At the bar, we encountered two older gentlemen who had been sitting near us at the game who asked us what the outcome was, as they had left early. Two thoughts on this. One, it was nice to see future me and Dez at the bar. Two, perhaps there’s something to learn from future me and Dez, as they had the good sense to leave an exhibition game early so that they could get to the bar.
One game is in the books, and we’ve got plenty more to watch this week. It’s good to have hoops back. Back tomorrow with another thing that I’m looking forward to this year...