Team-first Homestead boys run record to 7-0, ranked ninth in state
Highlanders host annual Chekouras tourney this weekend
Last year's version of the Homestead boys basketball team may have more up-top talent than this season's edition.
But there's just something about this group that has them playing extremely well right now, and cruising into this weekend's John Chekouras Classic with a 7-0 record and a ninth-place ranking in the most recent state polls.
Coach Kevin McKenna said the primary difference is a very "team-first" mentality, especially noticeable after the Highlanders' routs of Nicolet (78-38) and Cedarburg (66-31) last week.
"To me this is not surprising, because we're playing as a team," he said. "My first go-around last year we did have some talent but a lot of the players were worried about the next level (college), but I've always had the notion that if you succeed (as a team), they'll (the colleges) find you.
Coaches on the floor
"This group is buying into it. They're taking care of business on the court....They're more of a team. You watch them together at practice. They laugh, they talk to each other. They cheer for each other and when they beat someone in a drill, they don't gloat. It becomes sort of a teaching moment for one another.
"It seems we have a team of coaches."
Who happen to be pretty good players, too.
The Highlanders try to carry this momentum into their annual tribute to their late, Hall of Fame coach Chekouras on Friday and Saturday. Friday's schedule has West Bend West playing Waupun at 6:15 p.m. and then the Highlanders hosting Menomonee Falls at 8 p.m. The consolation game is at 6:15 p.m. Saturday and the title contest at 8 p.m.
"We have good local connections in this year," McKenna said. "It's always a nice tourney. Alumni come back and so does the Chekouras family. We're looking forward to it."
They should be, the way they're playing now. Homestead buried Cedarburg right of the gate on Friday, taking a 19-3 first quarter lead and then never looking back. It was 32-12 at the half and 46-21 after three quarters.
A total of eight players scored for the Highlanders led by Jaylen Key with 20 points while Jerrod Walton had 10, Cameron Marotta eight and Fred Eason seven. Five different players hit 3-pointers for the Highlanders.
Defense a cornerstone
From a technical standpoint, McKenna can't say enough about his defense.
"Our team defense is so good right now," he said. "We're aggressive in everything we do. We attack, help and simply don't let anyone get by us."
Versus Nicolet on Dec. 17, the Highlanders were even more in sync, taking a 27-9 lead on the Knights at the quarter. It was 48-21 at the half.
They had a coach's dream of balance this contest, as Key had 13 to lead the way but he was closely followed by Jack Popp with 12, Walton and John Marita with 10 apiece and Luke and Josh Mueller with nine apiece.
"From the Muskego game on out (the second contest of the season), we've really been looking to make that extra pass," McKenna said. "We're letting the game come to us. We really trust each other."
McKenna said that the Highlanders are also taking great care not to let all their new found attention go to their heads.
"Now that we've established ourselves, we need to keep playing with an edge and some humility," he said. "We need to remember what got us here: hard work and team play."
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