‘Friday Night Hoops’ a hit with players and fans
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
On Thursday night, Northwestern High School faced off with players from Superior High School in a boys basketball playoff game.
Fans packed the seats and officials kept a close watch on the court, but the game was not a sanctioned Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association event; it was the second night of playoffs in the Friday Night Hoops recreational basketball league.
The league holds games Friday nights at the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a season running from January to mid-March. Players come from both Minnesota and Wisconsin to play, and for two months in the winter, the gym at UWS is bustling with activity every Friday.
Since the league was founded it has grown in popularity, and teams outside of the Twin Ports have expressed interest in joining. For the first time this year, Northwestern entered its own team into the league.
NHS students had played on other Friday Night Hoops teams before, but this season marked the first time an entire team signed up to play from Maple.
The Northwestern team is made up of students from multiple grade levels, but they have one thing in common – all five boys on the basketball team also played together on this year’s varsity football team.
“We signed our team up a day before the deadline, so we just sort of threw a team together,” said Kevin Derick. “We didn’t actually think it was going to be that good; it was just a bunch of random guys.”
Of the football players on the rec league team, three are running backs: seniors Jimmy Hosey and Derick and junior TJ Polkoski. Linemen Jake Nelson and Brock Haugrud are also on the Northwestern roster.
“I wish I would have known about it earlier,” Derick said. “I wouldn’t have even played freshman basketball; I would have come out and played for this for sure. Everybody who’s not playing basketball for the school should be playing rec league. It’s not as serious; it’s just a bunch of guys out here trying to play some basketball and have fun.”
It’s the first year playing in the league for all five students, and they definitely have a more relaxed approach to their game.
In the final minutes of Wednesday’s playoff match with Brick Squad, the Northwestern players were throwing up alley-oops, taking shots from half court and trying every impossible shot they could conceive of. They had a nearly 40-point lead at the time and won 73-30 to advance to the next round.
“I guess now we’re going to have to start trying,” Derick said.
As of Wednesday night, the Northwestern team had never held an official practice for the rec league. Still, the team has managed to make itself one of the top contenders to enter Friday’s championship round. With no practice, what’s Northwestern’s secret?
“A lot of it’s football. We just know each other I guess,” Derick said. “We kind of know how each other plays, where they’re going to be, what they’re going to do.”
In regular season play, only one team defeated Northwestern this year, a group of Superior players calling themselves the High Flyers.
The majority of players on the High Flyers team have at least junior varsity experience playing for the Spartans. On the team are: Ethan Anderson, Robert Dembroski, John Edwards, Zac Erickson, Eagan Johnson, Marty Manion and Bryan Pallas.
As with the Northwestern team, this is the first year in the rec league for most of the High Flyers players. They have been teammates on the basketball court for years, though. Erickson, Anderson, Pallas and Dembroski all played together on the Superior JV team last year, but this year the SHS students had to alter their plans.
“We got cut from the varsity team,” Anderson said. “But we’re going to try out again.”
“I kind of feel like after getting cut, we have something to prove,” Dembroski said.
Anderson and Dembroski both intend to try out for Superior’s varsity team again next year. They see rec league play not only as a chance to have fun but also as an opportunity to continue working on their basketball skills.
The league is supposed to be about having fun, so the Superior players tried to choose a name to reflect that laidback attitude and settled upon the High Flyers.
“We just came up with the cheesiest basketball name we could think of,” Anderson said.
Contrary to their method of choosing a name, the High Flyers take their practices very seriously. They’re often in the gym at the same time as the boys eighth-grade traveling team, so they use that opportunity to scrimmage. When they show up for game, they come well prepared.
“It’s a different kind of basketball, a different skill level,” Dembroski said of playing in the Friday Night Hoops league.
“There aren’t as many good ball handlers in this rec league, so our defense (is more effective),” Erickson said.
In that regard, the High Flyers are much like the Superior Spartans.
Against GSC Wednesday evening, the High Flyers displayed some trademark Spartan defense to force a turnover and convert on the fast-break layup.
Dembroski made it 4-0 with a pump fake and shot off the glass, and the High Flyers then went back to their bread and butter with a steal and layup by Anderson.
The High Flyers led 27-16 after the first 20-minute half, but GSC clamped down to start second half and got back on defense to take away the High Flyers’ transition baskets. GSC got within 10 points a number of times but eventually fell 46-32.
The Friday Night Hoop League wraps up its season today with three championship games at UWS.
The girls match begins at 5 p.m., the boys B championship game starts at 6 p.m. and the A championship game starts at 7 p.m.