DEFOREST — DeForest junior point guard Max Weisbrod was in the zone.
His father, Craig Weisbrod, had seen it before as a coach for Max since first grade.
The Norskies’ longtime boys basketball coach didn’t even have to watch when his son stepped to the free throw line in the second half against Hartland Arrowhead in Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 sectional final in Baraboo.
He just needed to listen.
“It was nothing but swishes,” Craig Weisbrod said. “We were feeling confident. I didn’t even look up when he was shooting because I knew they were going in. We got down and he hit two big 3s to bring us back in the second half, just like the (Janesville) Parker game (in the sectional semifinal). He was feeling it.”
The 6-foot-3 Weisbrod scored 27 points after halftime, making all 14 of his free throws, as he and his teammates rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit and defeated Arrowhead 77-69.
“We got so far (in postseason), so I didn’t want to lose,” he said this week. “I was just doing everything I could. I just got hot at the right time and didn’t miss.”
Weisbrod wound up with 33 points, including 18-for-18 from the foul line, and had six assists and six rebounds. He made key play after key play on both ends of the court down the stretch, helping send the Norskies to their second state tournament appearance and most recent since 2012.
“That was my best game — probably,” he said.
Fourth-seeded DeForest (16-5), the only Dane County qualifier among the 20 teams reaching state, will meet top-seeded and top-ranked Kimberly (24-2) in a Division 1 semifinal at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.
The state trip comes a year after DeForest advanced to a Division 2 sectional final against Elkhorn, but the game wasn’t played after the WIAA canceled the rest of the tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m just super proud of everyone,” Max Weisbrod said. “We just worked so hard this whole year. And last year, getting cut short, it just meant a lot to get there and finally make it.”
‘Fast and physical’
Senior Trace Grundahl said the Norskies knew they had a good team entering the season.
“We were fast and physical,” said Grundahl, a captain with Max Weisbrod. “We knew we had potential.”
DeForest didn’t start playing games, which were outside Dane County, until early January due to health and gathering orders from Public Health Madison & Dane County. The Norskies, who began with socially distanced practices, didn’t hit their stride until the past couple weeks after more normal practices were permitted, Craig Weisbrod said.
“I’m just real proud of our guys and how they battled and stayed together,” said Craig Weisbrod, whose team has won its past eight games.
DeForest, which was moved up to Division 1 for postseason, won four playoff games in Baraboo.
Prior to his performance against Arrowhead, Max Weisbrod made two free throws with 5 seconds left in a 69-67 victory over Parker in the sectional semifinal.
“Max doesn’t have to shoot a lot,” Craig Weisbrod said. “He’s about making the right basketball play and finding those big guys. I do believe he can take over a game. That’s one of the pretty cool things about him.”
Said Grundahl: “Max is good at driving and creating space, finding gaps and getting to the lane and drawing fouls. That’s one of his strong suits.”
Weisbrod’s best game Saturday was complemented by 6-5 Nolan Hawk’s 14 points and nine rebounds and the 6-3 Grundahl’s 11 points, including eight in the second half.
“Coach told us at halftime to be more physical and get tough,” said Grundahl, who’s committed to UW-Whitewater for football. “That’s just what we did, and we got stops and we won. We shot the lights out in the second half. And Max was 18-for-18 on free throws. That was helpful, too.”
As of Sunday night, Kimberly coach Lucky Wurtz said he’d watched tape of DeForest 12 times. Weisbrod, averaging 18.1 points, 8.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game, had his attention.
“He’s really good,” Wurtz said. “He’s a dynamite player. His numbers are unbelievable. Just looking at them, they have a nice post player (Hawk), who’s 6-5. … They are just a well-coached team and very disciplined.”
Long time together
The Norskies definitely have familiarity with their system.Craig Weisbrod — who’s been a head coach for 26 years, 21 at DeForest — has coached players in Max’s class as a team since third grade.
“These guys have seen a lot of basketball and are not afraid of the moment, for sure,” Craig Weisbrod said.
Seven juniors are on the roster, including Weisbrod, Hawk and Deven Magli, who are starters with Grundahl and sophomore Brody Hartig. Juniors Josh Jansen and Tim Fredrickson and senior Justin Hausser are key reserves.
“He’s a good leader,” Craig Weisbrod said of Max, who hopes to play in college. “He keeps it in perspective. I’m friendlier to most of the other kids on our team. I’m probably harder on him than any of them.”
But Max’s demeanor helps the relationship.
“Max has a perfect temperament for me being his coach because he listens to the message and he doesn’t get worried about the theatrics and some of the yelling and other things,” Craig Weisbrod said.
Said Max Weisbrod: “We’ve had our ups and downs, but I think it’s made us closer. It’s been great playing for him.”
And basketball — including practices and traveling to games — always has been a family affair for Craig Weisbrod, his wife Tamara, and Max and younger siblings Sam and Luci.
“Most people have a patio,” Craig Weisbrod said, then added with a laugh, “We have a court.”