By Jason Arndt
Being teachable is the cornerstone of any successful athletic program.
At Westosha Central, where the boys basketball team has undergone a substantial youth movement, the newest crop of players has accepted guidance every step of the way.
Falcons’ fifth-year coach James Hyllberg, whose teams have enjoyed historic success in previous seasons, could not be happier his players have looked to get better.
“We have a young team; they have all been working hard at practice and that is where it starts,” he said. “These guys are hungry to learn, they are all very coachable and they work hard every day.
“This is an exciting group because they all want to get better each and every day.”
The team, which includes only two seniors, brings a new era for the program.
It comes after the Falcons notched three Southern Lakes Conference titles, three WIAA Division 2 sectional appearances and their first trip to the state tournament in school history within the last four years.
Nearly a dozen graduated seniors were part of the Falcons’ strong stretch, including conference Player of the Year Jaeden Zackery, who produced 21.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Dylan Anderson (12 ppg), Adam Simmons (9 ppg) and Joey Michelau (8.5 ppg) also departed for graduation.
A year ago, the senior-laden team finished 23-2 and saw its season end in a Division 2 sectional semifinal against conference opponent Elkhorn.
However, with a clean slate, Hyllberg acknowledged he and his coaching staff have stressed fundamentals at practice.
“With this young group, we are just stressing the little things, passing, defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball, making free throws,” Hyllberg said.
Rose has risen
Sophomore Jack Rose, a 6-foot-3 guard, has been the team’s leading scorer in its first four games of the regular season.
Rose, who scored 32 points at Elkhorn, added 20 against Burlington on Dec. 13 and averages 18.2 points per game.
Sophomores Devin Griffin (5-9 guard) and Kenny Garth (6-2 forward), senior Daniel McMillian (6-2 forward) and junior Corey Hinze (6-0 guard) have seen most of the minutes to start the season.
Bradley Bell, a 6-7 sophomore center, also has seen considerable playing time.
Juniors Eddie Menarek (5-11 guard), Conner Grinde (6-0 guard), Roman Varty (5-9 guard) and Sean Noonan (6-3 center) join the fray.
Other sophomores include Michael Mulhollon (6-4 forward) and Jakob Simmons (5-11 forward).
Cooper Griffiths (6-2 forward) joins McMillian as the only seniors on the team.
Falcons best Burlington
Meanwhile, on Dec. 13, the Falcons rode a 10-0 first- half run en route to a 48-33 victory against visiting Burlington and remained unbeaten in conference play at 2-0 (2-2 overall).
Down 10-9 after a Demons bucket from Joey Berezowitz, the Falcons rattled off 10 unanswered points, with Garth scoring 4.
Griffin, Rose and McMillian each contributed 2 points in the rally, which helped the Falcons take a 23-13 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Rose scored 14 of his game-high 20 points, which Hyllberg credited to a more aggressive approach.
“He was patient, we set up some good screens for him and what I liked most is he took the ball aggressively to the basket in the second half,” Hyllberg said. “He didn’t settle for jump shots.”
Garth, who went 4-for-7 in field goals, finished with the next highest output with 9 points. He also pulled down three rebounds, chipped in two assists and recorded four steals.
McMillian added 8 points along with four rebounds while Griffin scored 7.
Hyllberg said Griffin and Garth bring different strengths to the team.
“They are both active and have good basketball IQs for young guys. Kenny is exceptionally quick, Devin can handle the ball up court, so they all work well together.”
Bell came off the bench to lead the team in blocks with five.
Hyllberg said Bell’s blocking and post presence would improve because he is still growing.
“He is going to get taller, too. He is long, he is active,” he said. “Bradley had a good game against Elkhorn and tonight he had some good rebounds.”
Hyllberg acknowledged the Demons would present a challenge after they defeated Wilmot on Dec. 10.
“They were missing a couple of guys and they got a good win against Wilmot, so we knew coming in they were going to be well-coached,” he said.
Burlington (1-3, 1-1 SLC) coach Steve Berezowitz said his team played well defensively but couldn’t find an offensive rhythm.
“We just didn’t play well defensively,” he said. “I thought we defended really well.”
Westosha Central 72, Elkhorn 53
The Falcons opened conference play with a big win at Elkhorn on Dec. 10.
Rose scored a game-high 32 points and added two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Garth knocked in 15 points along with three rebounds and three assists.
McMillian (8 rebounds) and Bell (nine rebounds) had 10 points each.