Ben Emler finished his career as the all-time career scoring leader for Columbus’ prep boys basketball program and also goes out as this year’s Player of the Year in the Capitol North Conference, but it was the way the 6-foot-5 senior did it that’s left the biggest impression on Cardinals’ coach Ben Schambow.
It’s left a big impression on the program as a whole, in fact.
“While Ben will arguably go down as the best player to ever put on a Columbus basketball uniform, he is also one of the most unselfish players I have ever coached,” Schambow said. “He truly only cares about winning and prepares harder to accomplish that goal than anyone. People will see the points he’s scored, but it’s the commitment he made to the game of basketball that should be the inspiration for the younger generation of Columbus basketball players.
“Hard working, humble and driven … those are words that describe Ben Emler.”
He averaged 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and also chipped in with 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals per night.
Emler, who will continue his career in college at Wisconsin-Platteville, finishes his career with 1,540 points, eclipsing the 1,353 scored by 1992 graduate Erik Quamme. Emler tied Quamme’s mark by pouring in a career-high 35 points on Feb. 1 in a 61-39 win over Platteville.
He also hit the 30-point mark on Dec. 10 when he scored 30 in a 55-45 win over Cambridge, and in helping the Cardinals to a 16-9 overall record on the season he finished with less than 20 points only 13 times and never scored less than 10.
But he wasn’t alone in helping carry Columbus to a tie with Lodi for second place in the conference at 7-3 — both two games back of champion Lake Mills (9-1) — and eventually on to the sectional semifinals, where the Cardinals suffered a 61-57 loss to Waupun on March 12 on what ended up being the final day of the season for anyone as the WIAA would late that night cancel the remainder of the boys and girls basketball postseasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emler was joined by fellow all-conference honorees Alex Campbell (second team), Ryan Schulte (honorable mention) and Caden Brunell (honorable mention) in steering the Cardinals toward success.
Campbell, a lightning-fast 5-9 senior guard, averaged 10.5 points, 4.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
“Alex’s game progressed throughout the season and he was playing his best at the end,” Schambow said. “He was an excellent scoring option and was trusted to run the show for us. Being thrust into the point guard position early in the year, his decision making with the ball made him a very valuable player on our team and a viable threat to everyone we played.”
Meantime, Schulte, also a senior, averaged 7.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game while the junior Brunell averaged 7.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
“Ryan was a very pleasant surprise for us this year,” Schambow said. “Coming into the season as a bit of a question mark, Ryan made the most of every opportunity given to him. He was able to stretch defenses with his sharp shooting from deep and was able to carry us to a couple of wins this season when we needed a spark.”
Schambow said Brunell was “one of the best defenders I have ever coached.
“He locked down opposing teams’ best players with his team-first mentality. Caden also became a respected offensive threat throughout the season, making him an excellent two-way player.”
The Cardinals opened the year on a three-game losing streak before winning 11 of their next 12, including a 63-57 victory over Lake Mills to hand the L-Cats their only league loss of the season.
After that stretch ended, they also claimed a 58-44 win over Randolph on Feb. 10 at a time when the Rockets were ranked third in the Division 5 WisSports.net coaches poll. That also ended the Rockets’ undefeated season.
Columbus went 2-3 over the final five games of the regular season following the win over Randolph, but did win 76-57 over Wautoma in the regional semifinals and then 60-55 over Rosendale Laconia the next night in the finals — giving the Cardinals their second straight regional championship after the program hadn’t won since 1991 prior to last year.
Player of the year — Ben Emler, Sr., Columbus.
First team — Emler*; Charlie Bender, Jr., Lake Mills; Jack Persike, Sr., Lodi; Adam Moen, Jr., Lake Mills; Mike Herrington, Sr., Lake Mills.
Second team — Trey Traeder, Jr., Lodi; Carter Schneider, Sr., Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran; Nik Feller, Jr., Poynette; Alex Campbell, Sr., Columbus; Nate DeGalley, Sr., Watertown Luther Prep.
Honorable mention — Drew Stoddard, Jr., Lake Mills; Logan Richards, Sr., Lodi; Ryan Schulte, Sr., Columbus; Kelby Peterson, Jr., Poynette; Caden Brunell, Jr., Columbus; Ian Olszewski, Jr., Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran.
Follow Dan on Twitter @Danny_Larson_8 or contact him at 920-356-6753.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!