’Tis the season — the prep boys basketball season, that is.
And while Beaver Dam isn’t quite as loaded as it was a year ago, the Golden Beavers’ outlook for 2017-18 is still merry and bright.
“I think we’ve got a chance to surprise some teams,” head coach Tim Ladron said. “I’m excited about it.”
With good reason, it seems.
The Beavers won’t have Garrett Nelson (the program’s all-time leading scorer), Luke Livingston or Davis Braker. They all graduated after finishing as the team’s top three scorers at a combined 41.5 points per game.
But what does return are starters Sam Wilke (8.4 ppg) and Dillon Livingston (5.7 ppg) as well as Connor Cullen (4.1 ppg) and Justin Douma (3.6 ppg) — both bench players last year — who are all due for breakout campaigns.
“That gives us a pretty strong core,” Ladron said of the talented quartet, which was capable of more scoring production in 2016-17; it just wasn’t needed. “All those guys could sneak up on guys.”
They’ll get first chance at making their own mark today, when the Beavers head to the UW-Milwaukee Klotschke Center to play Milwaukee Marshall in a Fresh Coast Classic game that tips off at 11:05 a.m.
Still, they won’t be trying to move on entirely from last season. Why would they?
After all, it was a historic season that culminated with Beaver Dam’s first conference championship in 19 years and a program-record 23 victories before a loss to Cedarburg in the sectional semifinals.
Wilke, Livingston, Cullen and Douma gained valuable experience in the process, and it’s already paying dividends.
“All four of those guys have done a good job so far with leadership,” Ladron said. “And I like our energy — we’ve had really good practices.
“They’ve been through the ringer a little bit, and it’s their turn to sort of take the reins. And they’ve done a good job so far.”
They’ve also done a good job of growing tall.
“This is probably, on the whole, the biggest team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Ladron, now in his 10th season as head coach.
It’s hard to argue with him on that one, too — what with Douma (6-foot-6), Cullen (6-5), senior Kyle Gebhardt (6-6), junior newcomer Marshall McGauley (6-5), Wilke (6-3), and Livingston (6-2) combining to stand as tall as a four-story building (38 feet, 3 inches).
Wilke and Livingston were called upon the most last year, so even though their numbers figure to go up quite a bit across the board now that they’re in the driver’s seat, there’s already quite a bit of film on what they can do.
Cullen and Douma are a bit more unknown. But they’re certainly talented.
Ladron said Cullen is good defensively in the paint and on the perimeter, and his offensive game is just as versatile.
“He’s really tough to guard because he’s 6-5 and he steps out and he can shoot the three, but he can get to the basket as well. And he can post up,” Ladron said. “He’s got a pretty well-rounded game.”
Douma is more of a traditional post player.
“He’s got really good feet, he’s good around the basket, he’s strong, he knows how to use his body,” Ladron said. “But he’s worked on getting away from the basket a little bit and being able to shoot. So we’ll use that to our advantage.
“For our group that’s fairly young, we need somebody like Justin who’s a big body and can be physical. And he’ll certainly add that physical toughness for us.”
McGauley could also be a big factor, with a combination of size and versatility much like Cullen.
“He’s pretty multi-dimensional, and he’s very aggressive,” Ladron said. “It seems like every time he takes the floor, he gets a little better.”
And Gebhardt — another “true post” like Douma, Ladron said — is back healthy after missing all of last year.
“He’ll be one of those guys who will just get better throughout the year, because it’s hard when you miss a year like that,” Ladron added. “He’s sort of getting his game legs under him.”
Also on the list of returning players is 6-1 senior guard Kyle Gabel.
“He didn’t see a lot of time last year, but he’s athletic,” Ladron said. “He can guard — he can guard a one and he can guard a five. And he’s a good rebounder.
“I expect him to play some pretty significant minutes for us.”
In addition to McGauley, newcomers include juniors Cade Ferron, Kendric Jimenez, Adam Bird, Max Klawitter, Nate Johnson and Jordan Schwanke.
“They’re off to a nice start and they’ve picked things up quick,” Ladron said. “Every one of them played well in our scrimmage (at Fort Atkinson last Friday), and I’m excited about their potential and the possibilities.”
They’re all new, and so too is Beaver Dam to the Badger North Conference.
Waunakee enters as the sixth-ranked team in Division 1 according to the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook, so the Warriors are the clear-cut favorite to win the conference after going 23-1 over the past two seasons en route to consecutive Badger North championships.
After that, Ladron said it’s a toss-up between DeForest, Mount Horeb — those two received honorable mention in the preseason D2 rankings — Sauk Prairie and his Golden Beavers as to who will give Waunakee the best run for its money.
“I think two through five could probably end up anywhere,” he said.