Prep boys basketball: After hiatus from the court, Tiger seniors are eager to contribute
Three Northwestern seniors went out for basketball this year after not having played since they were underclassmen.
MAPLE — In his fifth year coaching the Northwestern Tigers, Nolan Graff has had great success, never finishing below third in the Heart O’ North Conference, and they even made a run to Madison for the state tournament in his first season.
After an injury-ridden season in 2021-2022, Graff sent 15 players to play in at least five games but almost half of the team is not coming back after a 22-4 season. Five seniors graduated and moved on to the next steps in their lives.
Two juniors are not playing for different reasons. Brandon Aker is now enrolled at Superior High School, and Bryce Priem had knee surgery that will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
It can be hard to fill the shoes of seven players, but the Tigers got lucky when seniors Luke Sedin, Trevor Eliason and Tyrese Topping decided to try out for the first time since their freshman or sophomore years.
“All of them have only had one year of high school experience," Graff said. "Tyrese played his freshman year; Luke and Trevor played in their sophomore year, so just to get the athletes back in the gym was really big for us."
Sedin stands at 6 foot, 4 inches and Eliason is a towering 6 foot, 6 inches. Their height could be big for the Tigers, who lost three of their top five rebounders.
“We haven’t even seen Trevor. Obviously he has the size — 6-foot-6 with a wide wingspan. He’s going to provide a lot for us inside with that interior presence,” Graff said.
Eliason has been dealing with an injury from the football season, but said he’s ready to get out there. He participated in his first full practice since injuring his foot during the week of the Superior Spartans matchup.
“I’m trying to wear off some of the rust from having three years off but I’m still working on it,” Topping said about his thoughts on the early season.
Conditioning was one of the first things that picked up but when it’s paired with something that accumulates more rust during the offseason, it can get difficult.
“I gotta work on the free throws a little still — they call me 'Marathon,'” said Sedin, who has shot 72% inside the three this season but 33% from the line.
“For me, it’s like the same crew we have back from like seventh grade. Everyone beside Andrew (Bourque) is back now, so it’s been fun to have the guys back together,” Eliason said.
Topping and Sedin played in the offseason through the summer league or the Amateur Atheltic Union basketball season in the spring.
For Topping, playing with the Wisconsin Superhoops in the spring was a big reason he decided to try out.
“My AAU coach over the summer really influenced me to come back and play ball for the team,” he said.
For Graff, it’s great having these seniors back.
Topping and Sedin both got to play in the rivalry matchup against Superior on Tuesday, Dec. 13. The Tigers were up by one going into halftime but came out firing as they outscored Superior 51-28 in the second half.
“We are only getting better. Tonight was a big win for us as a team. We put a lot into this one — it’s a huge rivalry game and they challenged us really well in the first half,” Graff said.
The Tigers' nonconference end to December includes battles with middle border team St. Croix Central before a regional final rematch against Baldwin-Woodville on Dec. 22.
The Tigers then travel to play in the holiday tournament hosted by the number one team in the state right now in West Salem. The Tigers' newcomers and returning leaders will be battle-tested this season, but looking into the playoffs that’s something Graff said he wants early.
With a 4-0 record so far, the Tigers may look to create some middle school magic.
“All of traveling ball, we never lost a regular season game, so I feel like if we get back into that level of chemistry we could go pretty far,” Sedin said.