PARDEEVILLE — Nicholas Henke had one heck of a junior season last year for the Pardeeville boys basketball program. The 6-foot guard averaged an impressive 23.1 points per game while leading the Bulldogs to their first conference title in 25 years. Henke also helped Pardeeville win a WIAA regional title for the second time in three years and was named the Trailways West Conference Player of the Year.
As much as Henke enjoyed last season, the one thing that he really wanted had eluded him, and that was to get the Bulldogs back to the state tournament for the first time since 1978.
Now as his final season is about to wrap up, Henke has accomplished his goal, as Pardeeville is gearing up to play Manitowoc Roncalli in a Division 4 state semifinal game at the Kohl Center in Madison on Thursday at 6:35 p.m.
For Henke, the key to getting Pardeeville back to the state tournament this year wasn’t for him to do more, but instead rely on those around to carry more of the load.
This season, Henke is averaging 15.9 points per game, which is down about 7 points from last year. That isn’t just a coincidence, according to head coach Chris Lindert.
“From his freshman year on, he’s understood the most important thing is the wins, and if that means to score more, that means he scores more,” Lindert said. “Last year, he had to score more for us to win, so he did that. This year he understands that ‘I don’t have to score more; I have to get other people involved to be successful.’ He’s a true point guard. He does what we need him to do to win games.”
A big reason the Bulldogs were able to lessen Henke’s scoring load and still have success this season was the addition of Duncan Fleiner. When the 6-foot-6 Fleiner moved to Pardeeville in the offseason, it gave the team the inside presence it had been lacking. Now Henke and his teammates are making more of an effort to feed Fleiner the ball in the post.
“This year with Duncan, Johnny (Kamrath) stepping up, Logan (Zuhlke) stepping up, (Nicholas) Cerro stepping up a little more too, it helps a lot,” Henke said. “Our team is very unselfish. Anyone can go off on any given night. I think that’s a big part of it.”
Henke, who was again named the Trailways West Player of the Year this year, has hit some big shots in his career. That includes a pair of 3-pointers late in last Thursday’s sectional semifinal win over New Glarus that allowed Pardeeville to rally for a 74-68 win.
Henke had another opportunity to play the role of hero in the sectional final on Saturday. With the game tied at 61 and time running out, some expected Henke to take the final shot, but he instead found Kamrath open on the left block. Kamrath was fouled with 0.7 seconds left and went on to make one of two free throws to send Pardeeville to the state tournament.
“Henke’s our best player and leading scorer,” Kamrath said. “A lot of guys from our team would shoot that shot, but he threw it down to me and trusts me. That’s something you don’t always see from the best player on every other team.”
Joel Hammond, who was a sophomore on Pardeeville’s 1978 state tournament team, and whose dad Bruce was the coach of that team, was watching a live online stream of last Saturday’s sectional final game from his home in Texas. Hammond was impressed with how Henke remained patient when Pardeeville was down 13 points with just over 4 minutes remaining.
“When I’m down 13, I would have been firing away left and right, and Henke didn’t do that,” Hammond said. “He stayed in the game; he passed to people. At the end of the game, I’m taking the shot. I’m sorry. But Henke found Kamrath down below.”
Whenever Henke’s high school basketball career ends, be it Thursday night, or after Saturday afternoon’s state championship game, he will go down as Pardeeville’s all-time career scorimg leader. He officially passed Steve Jacobson’s 1,422 points in a victory over Princeton/Green Lake on Jan. 22 to take over the top spot.
Jacobson, who was Pardeeville’s leading scorer on the 1978 state tournament team, went on to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin for four years before becoming the founder and CEO of Fairway Independent Mortgage. Jacobson got to meet Henke back in November, when he was in Pardeeville to help dedicate the new Dream Court his company helped bring to Pardeeville.
Since then, Jacobson and Henke have become close friends.
“That’s amazing. I get emails or text messages from him every single day. He sent a long email to me (Monday) about how I should prepare this week, and how I should treat it,” Henke said. “He said I should just enjoy it. It doesn’t come around very often, and this is my last opportunity.”
Jacobson, who was sitting right behind the Pardeeville bench during Saturday’s sectional final win, said he has been impressed with how Henke and his teammates have handled themselves during the tournament run.
“Nicholas and I were still texting at 12:30 at night after that game on Saturday. We have developed a nice little friendship, and I’m proud of him,” Jacobson said. “Anything I can do to help him, as far as how he looks at this. I just like him as a kid. I think he’s a good kid, he works hard and it’s important to him.”