Port‚Äôs Gasser, Cedarburg‚Äôs Rank forge special bond while traveling shared path to basketball excellence
It was one of those take-no-prisoners scenes.
Midway through the second half of the Port Washington boys‚Äô basketball team‚Äôs road game Jan. 8, Cedarburg‚Äôs Chip Rank went after a rebound with a pair of opponents in front of him.
Rank landed in a heap, draped over Port‚Äôs Josh Gasser, a player he‚Äôs tangled with many times before.
Amid a few catcalls from the Port crowd, Rank was whistled for a foul, but he got up, helped Gasser to his feet ‚ÄĒ and on went the game.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre friends, but we like to compete,‚ÄĚ Rank said afterward. ‚ÄúWe always play hard.‚ÄĚ
Gasser got the last word that night, scoring a game-high 27 points in leading the Pirates to a 58-44 win. Rank had 16 points for the Bulldogs, who fell short after upsetting Port on the same court last season.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always a challenge to play against Cedarburg, especially with Chip,‚ÄĚ Gasser said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs their best player, so we had to do what we could to stop him.‚ÄĚ
Rank is also one of Gasser‚Äôs best pals.
The two seniors first squared off on a basketball court when they were in fourth grade ‚ÄĒ playing for different teams from different towns with little in common other than every boy‚Äôs dream of becoming a standout athlete.
Eight years, dozens of games and countless exchanges of baskets, bumps and bruises later, the dream lives on.
So does a friendship between teens whose shared path to success has forever linked them as rivals, teammates and record setters.
For Gasser, the road has led to a pinnacle in Port sports history. At the end of this basketball season, the 6-foot-4-inch guard will cap a four-year varsity career as his team‚Äôs all-time scoring leader, a record that stood for 56 years until he broke it as a junior. After last Friday‚Äôs game against Homestead, he had 1,454 career points.
This fall, Gasser will take his talents to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a scholarship player on the men‚Äôs basketball team.
Rank‚Äôs legacy as one of the top athletes in Cedarburg High School history has led him to the No. 1 spot on the Bulldog boys‚Äô career scoring list.
Last weekend, the 6-6 forward scored 22 points against Whitefish Bay and moved into a tie with Jack Friess for the school record with 1,161 points. With his first point this Friday at home against Nicolet, Rank will break a mark that has stood for 43 years.
Like Gasser, Rank will take his basketball skills to a Division 1 college program, having accepted a scholarship from the University of Northern Iowa.
The similarities between Rank and Gasser don‚Äôt end there.
They‚Äôre both honor students who were recruited for basketball by several of the same colleges, including Northwestern and Northern Iowa, and excelled as quarterbacks on their school‚Äôs football teams.
Rank received offers from several Division I college football programs before opting for basketball.
Gasser had an outstanding football season as a junior but was sidelined all of last fall after injuring an ankle while playing on a summer basketball team with Rank. The two have been on the same Wisconsin Swing AAU squad for three years, ever since Rank recruited Gasser to become his teammate.
‚ÄúI saw him play at the (WIAA) state tournament as a freshman and asked him to join,‚ÄĚ said Rank, whose real first name is Charles. ‚ÄúWe needed a point guard on Swing, and I thought he would be good.‚ÄĚ
Both players have been more than good. During the summers, they‚Äôve helped their AAU team win several tournaments.
This season, they‚Äôre each averaging more than 22 points per game, which puts them among the top 10 high school players in southeastern Wisconsin. But they‚Äôre receiving even higher marks for intangible assets.
‚ÄúJosh is a great athlete who‚Äôs talented, extremely respectful and leads by example, just like Chip,‚ÄĚ Port basketball coach John Bunyan said.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre both unselfish. Whenever they have the ball, they look for their teammates first. They play the game the way it should be played.‚ÄĚ
It didn‚Äôt take Nick Weisse, Cedarburg‚Äôs first-year boys‚Äô coach, long to notice the same thing.
‚ÄúChip isn‚Äôt a holler guy. He doesn‚Äôt run around and yell at people, even though I wish he was more assertive with his teammates at times,‚ÄĚ Weisse said.
‚ÄúChip just tries to find ways to make everyone on the team better. I think Josh is the same way. They‚Äôre not bold and brash. They‚Äôre both the real thing.‚ÄĚ
When they started out as rivals on youth basketball teams coached by their fathers, Gasser and Rank didn‚Äôt suspect they would become the glue in a bond between families. After years of watching their sons play against each other, Pat and Joan Gasser and Scott and Carrie ‚ÄúBeetle‚ÄĚ Rank found themselves joining
forces on road trips to AAU games and college visits.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve gotten pretty close to the Ranks,‚ÄĚ said Pat Gasser, one of Bunyan‚Äôs assistant coaches. ‚ÄúAt first, I don‚Äôt think we really liked each other because the boys were always trying to beat one another.
‚ÄúBut by the time they got to high school, they were playing together more than they were against each other. It‚Äôs been a lot of fun watching them both.‚ÄĚ
Fun is also the operative word for both players, whose outlook reflects a love of sports and a respect for their opponents as much as a desire to win. When asked who‚Äôs better with a basketball, they laughed and pointed at each other.
‚ÄúChip is really good,‚ÄĚ Josh Gasser said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a better post player than I am, and he‚Äôs tougher physically, but I probably have a better perimeter game because that‚Äôs my role on the team.‚ÄĚ
To Chip Rank, Port has a guard who makes everyone around him better.
‚ÄúJosh sets up his teammates a lot, which makes him so tough to stop,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúHe can also get a shot anytime he wants. I have to work harder for mine.‚ÄĚ
Friendly competition has helped both players improve their games.
‚ÄúThey are definitely two peas in a pod,‚ÄĚ Scott Rank said. ‚ÄúBesides playing on the same AAU team, they‚Äôve spent a lot of time together on trips and practicing in the summer. They‚Äôve had some free-throw contests where they just kept making them nonstop.‚ÄĚ
Communication between the players has been as steady as their shared workouts.
‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs really nice is that they have had each other to talk to,‚ÄĚ Carrie Rank said. ‚ÄúAll through this recruiting, Josh and Chip have been bouncing things off each other to find out what they think.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not a one-upmanship but a way to help them keep things in perspective.‚ÄĚ
The perspective includes remembering that sports is only one part of a student-athlete‚Äôs life. Stories about Gasser and Rank being courteous, friendly,
accommodating young adults are easy to find among their coaches and teachers.
‚ÄúI think there are some amazing parallels with these two kids,‚ÄĚ said Brian Leair, Cedarburg High School‚Äôs athletic director and football coach.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre tough, they‚Äôre talented, and they both want to be the best they can be. They‚Äôre the kind of kids you want to see playing for your team and your school.‚ÄĚ
Although their high school athletic careers will come to a close in a few months, these players see no end to their friendship.
‚ÄúWe enjoy a lot of the same things and will stay in touch. We text a lot,‚ÄĚ Josh Gasser said.
As an appropriate send-off, they‚Äôve planned a shared graduation party in spring. Just to be fair, though, they picked a neutral playing venue.
It will be at Lime Kiln Park in Grafton ‚Äúbecause that‚Äôs halfway between Port Washington and Cedarburg,‚ÄĚ they said.
SMILES ASIDE, there‚Äôs no backing down for Port Washington‚Äôs Josh Gasser (left) and Cedarburg‚Äôs Chip Rank when they square off on the basketball court. The senior standouts have played against each other since they were in fourth grade . Photo by Sam Arendt