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A ‘Family Affair’

Northwestern High School head coach Nolan Graff squats as he looks over the court while as his brother, and starting guard, Jenner Graff (21), looks on behind him during a game earlier this season in Maple. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)1 / 3
Northwestern High School head coach Nolan Graff, second from left, runs a defensive drill during Tigers’ practice at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Monday, March 11. From left, Andrew Klobucher, Greg Ruhman, Sam Risley and Jenner Graff get ready to play defense. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)2 / 3
Northwestern High School head coach Nolan Graff, left, hits his brother, Jenner Graff, with a blocking pad during the Tigers’ practice at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Monday, March 11. The Tigers play Martin Luther at 1:35 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)3 / 3

At age 25, there’s a good chance Northwestern High School boys basketball coach Nolan Graff will be the youngest coach in the 2019 WIAA State Basketball Tournament.

There’s also a pretty good chance that he will be the only one coaching his brother, Jenner, who is among the Tigers’ nine seniors on the roster.

Coach Graff, who led Northwestern to its fourth state tournament in his first year as head coach, is often asked how difficult it is to coach a brother.

“I get asked that question a lot,” coach Graff said. “But we have a good relationship outside of basketball, and once we get on the court, he can tell me something that’s going on and we can implement that into our game plan. On the other hand, you have be careful. It’s kind of like being coached by your dad. It can be too easy to yell at him.

“There are times when I need something to be said and I’ll have one of the assistant coaches talk to him. But Jenner’s a phenomenal kid and works hard every single day. Because I’m the coach, maybe he works even harder, because there’s no special treatment when it comes to him.”

Jenner welcomes the extra pressure that may be on him because of who the coach is.

“He’s coached me previously, so I’m used to it and really like it,” Jenner said. “There’s no leeway and he always pushes me hard. He knows what I’m capable of and makes sure I get it done.”

Also making sure both Nolan and Jenner are getting things done is their father, Joel, who has been voice of Tiger basketball and football since the inception of the ifan.tv network on the internet.

“He’s super happy,” Nolan said. “He’s been doing the ifan thing ever since it got going 15 years ago, and for him to have me and Jenner both being part of this, my first year coaching and his last year playing, it’s been really special for him.”

While Nolan lives in Superior while attending UW-Superior, Jenner gets extra coaching from his dad at the dinner table.

“We do watch some film at home and break it down,” Jenner said. “We’re a big basketball family and I’ve always watched my dad coach my brother when he was younger.”

The family thing extends beyond the Graffs, including with assistant coach Trevor Paulus, a cousin of the Graff boys, and with the rest of the team.

“We have a great family atmosphere with this team, we try to do stuff together all the time,” Nolan said. “We’ve been bowling, just hanging out, and we eat out every once in a while. That extends to the court as a cohesive unit. We’ve talked about togetherness, playing as a unit and as the year progressed we’ve really come along.”

Nolan also witnessed that cohesiveness as a sophomore on the 2010 Tiger team that finished in second in the state tournament.

“We had a heck of a team with Steve Tecker and Donnie Hissa,” Nolan said. “I didn’t play much, but I was on the roster, it was a good time.”

Coach Graff also got to experience what it’s like being on the floor at the Kohl Center. To help his players get used to a bigger building, and floor, the Tigers practiced Monday and Tuesday at UWS.

“The Kohl Center is a whole new atmosphere,” Nolan said. “We came here (UWS) to get use to the size, it’ll do us good to run around a bit.

“You can’t anticipate the size of the arena and all those eyes watching you, but we’ll be ready, that’s for sure.”

The Tigers will also have to be ready when they meet Martin Luther in the first Division 3 semifinal game at 1:35 p.m. Thursday. The Spartans are 23-3 and spent all but the first week of the season ranked No. 1 in the state.

The Spartans are making their first state tournament appearance, but it wasn’t for lack of effort as they lost in three of their last four sectional championship games.

They finally broke through this year after 76-41 trouncing of Beloit Turner.

The Spartans, co-champions of the Metro Classic Conference with Racine St. Catherine’s, opened up a 18-0 lead on Turner and eventually led 25-3 less than six minutes into the game.

“We’re really excited, it’s been four years in the making,” Martin Luther coach Paul Wollersheim said. “A number of seniors have been on varsity for four years so it's been a long road here.”

The Spartans’ roster includes Trequan Carrington, Ace Evans and Xzavier Jones, all first-team all-conference.

Add into the mix junior Joey Immekus, who leads all of Division 3 players with 3-pointers made this season. Against Turner he hit back-to-back 3s to start the game. He finished with seven 3s, including five in the first half, and a game-high 26 points.

“They’re tremendously athletic,” Nolan said. “They push the ball up and down the floor, they crash the offensive boards hard and they’re tenacious on defense, so we really need to be strong with the basketball, box out and get back on defense.

“For us, though, the message hasn’t changed: If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We’re really excited about the spot we’re in.”

TIGER TALES: Another one of Nolan Graff’s assistant coaches is Ken Bartelt, who was the head coach of the 1999 NHS girls team that advanced to state. “Having Ken around helps a lot,” coach Graff said. “We have a good dynamic going and Ken has a ton of wisdom when it comes to the game. He’s been to the tournament and that helps out a lot.” … The fourth-seeded Tigers are making their first state appearance since two straight tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, which resulted in a runner-up finish in Division 2. … The Tigers were also among the Division 2 field in 2005. … They won the Heart O’North Conference title this year, and they went into overtime to defeat Wisconsin Dells 75-68 in the Marshfield Sectional final to earn their return to Madison. … All Tiger games will be on WNXR 107.3 FM and all state tournament games will be on My9 TV.

The rest of the D3 field

Waupun — The No. 2 seed Warriors return to the state tournament for the first time since 2016 when they captured the Division 3 championship and for the third time in program history. … The Warriors’ first experience in the state tournament ended in a loss in the quarterfinals when there was a single class system. … Their return to the tourney field comes following their 64-58 win over Brookfield Academy in the Brown Deer Sectional final. … The Warriors are the champions of the East Central Conference this season.

Denmark — The third-seeded Vikings won the Class B championship the last time they qualified for state in 1985. … Overall, the Vikings are making their fourth appearance. The first two appearances were in 1938 and 1939.  … They qualify this season following their 46-41 victory over Freedom in the Appleton North Sectional final. … The Viking shared the title in the North Eastern Conference this year with Freedom and Wrightstown.

Northwestern High School

2018-19 Boys Basketball Roster

2  Brody Payton 12

3  Koy Nelson 9

5 Jagar Stillson 11

10 Harrison Nelson 10

11 Jake Brill 11

21 Jenner Graff 12

22 Andrew Klobucher 11

25 Sam Risley 12

31 Dayne Evanson 11

33 Nolan Gustafson 11

43 Greg Ruhman 12

44 Gervase Thompson 12

51 Carsen Nykanen 11

WIAA Boys State Basketball Tournament

Kohl Center, Madison

DIVISION 1

Friday, March 15

Brookfield Central (21-5) vs. Neenah (19-7), 6:35 p.m.

Sun Prairie (20-6) vs. West Allis Central (22-3), 8:15 p.m.

Saturday, March 16

Championship Game

Semifinal winners, 8:15 p.m.

DIVISION 2

Friday, March 15

Nicolet (25-1) vs. Elkhorn Area (23-3), 1:35 p.m.

La Crosse Central (24-2) vs. Milw. Washington (21-5), 3:15 p.m.

Saturday, March 16

Championship Game

Semifinal winners, 6:35 p.m.

DIVISION 3

Thursday, March 14

Martin Luther (23-3) vs. Northwestern (21-5), 1:35 p.m.

Denmark (22-5) vs. Waupun (25-1), 3:15 p.m.

Saturday, March 16

Championship Game

Semifinal winners, 2:30 p.m.

DIVISION 4

Thursday, March 14

Roncalli (26-0) vs. New Glarus (24-2), 6:35 p.m.

Osseo-Fairchild (24-2) vs. Lourdes Academy (25-1), 8:15 p.m.

Saturday, March 16

Championship Game

Semifinal winners, 12:45 p.m.

DIVISION 5

Friday, March 15

Sheboygan Area Lutheran (25-2) vs. McDonell Central (18-9), 9:05 a.m.

Bangor (25-1) vs. Columbus Catholic (25-1), 10:45 a.m.

Saturday, March 16

Championship Game

Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.

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