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Kuhn, coaches enjoy event and 118-108 win

The coaching staff of Ryan Brown, Bob Komanec and Paul Henrichs got a dream assignment to coach a boys team with extreme size, athleticism, shooting ability and defensive understanding and made the most of it at the 44th annual Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Games, held July 15 at JustAGame Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells.

The trio guided the Gray squad to a hard-fought 118-108 win over the White team in a game played within single digits throughout until a late fourthquarter surge put the Gray team over the top.

Brown, appointed the Gray team’s head coach by the WBCA, is the head coach while Komanec is the assistant coach at Medford Area Senior High. Henrichs, a 2002 Medford graduate, is the head coach at Altoona.

Medford’s Peyton Kuhn played for the squad and scored four points, hitting all of his free throw attempts.

“It was great,” Brown said after the win. “We had a bunch of kids that just love playing basketball, so it was really easy. As soon as we stepped in the gym, they were ready to compete and play hard. They were very coachable and they all got along really well. They just had great personalities, no egos. So it was a lot of fun during the three days we were here.”

“It was a blast,” Henrichs said. “When you get to deal with kids that can shoot it and defend and do all of that, it’s just a little bit different and it’s going to be hard to go back to coaching a normal high school team. It’s just a ton of fun. The kids were great and respectful. That’s what it’s about.”

Kuhn said the three days he spent with the 12-man squad is something he’ll always remember.

“It was a good few days,” he said. “I made a lot of friendships with guys. They were a fun group of guys and they’re all really good players. It was fun to be a part of it, that’s for sure.”

Really good certainly was a strong description for the rosters assembled on both sides of the Division 2 contest.

The Gray squad was led by 6-3 Jayden Jackson of Whitefish Bay, who scored 26 points, including four 3-pointers and two rim-rocking dunks in the fourth quarter. Victor Desmond, a 6-7, forward from Onalaska added 18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Cael McGee, a physical yet athletic 6-3 guard from Stoughton added 14 points and Cole Kalander, a 6-8 post from Holmen, hit double figures with 10.

Adding to the Gray’s imposing size were 6-8 Jonah Rindfleisch of Wisconsin Lutheran (eight points) and Josh Crubaugh, a 6-4 athlete from New Berlin Eisenhower (nine points on three 3s). Not only did that group score, they blocked several shots as well.

“When you’re putting size like that on the court, it’s easy to coach,” Henrichs said.

“We knew we had an offensive and defensive advantage inside,” Brown said. “What (White) did a good job of was getting in the paint, then kicking and making some shots. We just said you’ve got to get hands up on shooters. You’ve got some protection behind you.”

“It was crazy,” the 6-foot Kuhn said. “Getting in the elevator in the hotel with these guys and I’m in the middle and I was like this guy’s 6-9, this guy’s 6-8. I’m tiny.”

The Gray team also mixed in the quickness of 5-11 guard Parker Lawrence of Hortonville and 6-1 guard A.J. Hintz of state champion Pewaukee.

Chipping in were Kuhn, Rhinelander’s Ross Skeen and Mosinee’s Cyle Kowalski of the Great Northern Conference, who filled reserve roles on the perimeter. Kowalski scored five first-half points, including a 3-pointer. Skeen scored nine points, seven in the second including back-to-back 3s late in the third quarter that turned an 84-80 deficit into an 86-85 lead. The Gray never trailed again.

“It wasn’t like they didn’t fit. They did,” Brown said of the GNC players. “Peyton got to the hoop and got some free throws and some open shots. Cyle has the speed to attack and play some defense and then Ross hit a couple big shots. We were able to put some super athletes in size and some of our other guards who could play off the ball and it just gave us a good mixture of weapons.”

“It was nice to play with them and not against them and actually be encouraging of their skills and what they can do,” Komanec said of having GNC rivals on the roster.

While Kuhn missed a couple of 3s and had the ball knocked out of his hands on a fourth-quarter drive, he also got into the paint and drew two fouls that led to his four free throws and his defense against the White’s guards was good. He had an assist to Desmond on a first-half post feed as well.

“Defensively, you could see with Peyton how we play,” Brown said. “He did a great job of defending the ball and forcing tough shots.”

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Kuhn said. “We have guys going D-I. I mean, they’re really good. It’s a different role, but it’s one I had to fill. It was fun being out there with them.

“We got here Tuesday, had a couple of practices, team bonding and then (last Wednesday) night we had our banquet, which was pretty cool. Then we all watched the Bucks, that was good. Everyone was going crazy. It was nice that we got the win. That was fun. It was definitely something I’ll remember. I was a little rusty, but that’s how it is I guess. It was just that my 3s weren’t falling. But that’s all right.”

The Gray led 29-24 after one quarter, fell behind 54-52 at halftime when Jordan Johnson of Elkhorn, who dazzled with 33 points, capped a 15-2 White run by sinking a 3 at the buzzer. The Gray trailed 8477 in the third before Skeen’s 3s led to an 89-87 lead after three.

McGee sealed the deal with back-toback dunks to make it 114-103. The first of those came when he split a double-team on the wing and then went uncontested down the lane.

“Coach Henrichs ran a good little backdoor play and they overplayed it and Cael just split it and there was no help and he stuffed one,” Brown said. “When we needed a basket out of a timeout, they did a good job of listening and executing to get that good shot.”

“It’s pretty much roll the ball out and players are going to make plays,” Henrichs said. “Our biggest thing, and Ryan’s philosophy is the same as mine, it’s defense. If you can play any defense, you’re going to win. To do that in an allstar game is tough. We were able to get enough stuff done at the end and win the game which is pretty exciting for these guys.”

Brown is a 2004 graduate of Altoona High School, so to have two coaches working at the other’s alma mater, is a fun rarity. The teams are starting to play an annual non-conference game (Medford won this year’s matchup) and they were each a win away from playing each other again in the WIAA sectional final.

“I was hoping for a rematch,” Henrichs said. “Then Ryan said why don’t you come coach with me (at the all-star game). I was like yeah that’d be a great opportunity. It’s fun just the way we’ve been able to put the Medford and Altoona game on the calendar, start a little bit of rivalry and bragging rights. It’s been a lot of fun spending this week with Ryan and Bob.”

Coaches and players are required to fundraise in the spring in return for their participation. This year, Camp Hometown Heroes, Camp Wawbeek/Easter Seals of Wisconsin, Garding Against Cancer, the MACC Fund and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin all received $20,000 from those fundraising efforts.

“We all just feel super blessed to have the opportunity,” Brown said. “You don’t quite understand it until you get here. It feels like a lot of work leading up to it. You’re already trying to set up your summer stuff, you’re trying to do family stuff. But once we got here, those kids were just a joy to coach. As a coaching staff we got along really well and the players got along really well, so it was a lot of fun.”

Coaches Ryan Brown, Paul Henrichs and Bob Komanec watch their team’s pre-game warm-ups before the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 2 All-Star Game. Right: Medford’s Peyton Kuhn is fouled by the White team’s Lance Nelson of Monona Grove during the first half. Kuhn made both ensuing free throws.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS