Portâ€™s Gasser, Cedarburgâ€™s 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 boysâ€™ basketball teamâ€™s road game Jan. 8, Cedarburgâ€™s Chip Rank went after a rebound with a pair of opponents in front of him.
Rank landed in a heap, draped over Portâ€™s Josh Gasser, a player heâ€™s 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 â€” and on went the game.
â€śWeâ€™re friends, but we like to compete,â€ť Rank said afterward. â€śWe always play hard.â€ť
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.
â€śItâ€™s always a challenge to play against Cedarburg, especially with Chip,â€ť Gasser said. â€śHeâ€™s their best player, so we had to do what we could to stop him.â€ť
Rank is also one of Gasserâ€™s best pals.
The two seniors first squared off on a basketball court when they were in fourth grade â€” playing for different teams from different towns with little in common other than every boyâ€™s 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 teamâ€™s all-time scoring leader, a record that stood for 56 years until he broke it as a junior. After last Fridayâ€™s 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 menâ€™s basketball team.
Rankâ€™s legacy as one of the top athletes in Cedarburg High School history has led him to the No. 1 spot on the Bulldog boysâ€™ 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 donâ€™t end there.
Theyâ€™re 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 schoolâ€™s 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.
â€śI saw him play at the (WIAA) state tournament as a freshman and asked him to join,â€ť said Rank, whose real first name is Charles. â€śWe needed a point guard on Swing, and I thought he would be good.â€ť
Both players have been more than good. During the summers, theyâ€™ve helped their AAU team win several tournaments.
This season, theyâ€™re each averaging more than 22 points per game, which puts them among the top 10 high school players in southeastern Wisconsin. But theyâ€™re receiving even higher marks for intangible assets.
â€śJosh is a great athlete whoâ€™s talented, extremely respectful and leads by example, just like Chip,â€ť Port basketball coach John Bunyan said.
â€śTheyâ€™re both unselfish. Whenever they have the ball, they look for their teammates first. They play the game the way it should be played.â€ť
It didnâ€™t take Nick Weisse, Cedarburgâ€™s first-year boysâ€™ coach, long to notice the same thing.
â€śChip isnâ€™t a holler guy. He doesnâ€™t run around and yell at people, even though I wish he was more assertive with his teammates at times,â€ť Weisse said.
â€śChip just tries to find ways to make everyone on the team better. I think Josh is the same way. Theyâ€™re not bold and brash. Theyâ€™re both the real thing.â€ť
When they started out as rivals on youth basketball teams coached by their fathers, Gasser and Rank didnâ€™t 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 â€śBeetleâ€ť Rank found themselves joining
forces on road trips to AAU games and college visits.
â€śWeâ€™ve gotten pretty close to the Ranks,â€ť said Pat Gasser, one of Bunyanâ€™s assistant coaches. â€śAt first, I donâ€™t think we really liked each other because the boys were always trying to beat one another.
â€śBut by the time they got to high school, they were playing together more than they were against each other. Itâ€™s been a lot of fun watching them both.â€ť
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 whoâ€™s better with a basketball, they laughed and pointed at each other.
â€śChip is really good,â€ť Josh Gasser said. â€śHeâ€™s a better post player than I am, and heâ€™s tougher physically, but I probably have a better perimeter game because thatâ€™s my role on the team.â€ť
To Chip Rank, Port has a guard who makes everyone around him better.
â€śJosh sets up his teammates a lot, which makes him so tough to stop,â€ť he said. â€śHe can also get a shot anytime he wants. I have to work harder for mine.â€ť
Friendly competition has helped both players improve their games.
â€śThey are definitely two peas in a pod,â€ť Scott Rank said. â€śBesides playing on the same AAU team, theyâ€™ve spent a lot of time together on trips and practicing in the summer. Theyâ€™ve had some free-throw contests where they just kept making them nonstop.â€ť
Communication between the players has been as steady as their shared workouts.
â€śWhatâ€™s really nice is that they have had each other to talk to,â€ť Carrie Rank said. â€śAll through this recruiting, Josh and Chip have been bouncing things off each other to find out what they think.
â€śItâ€™s not a one-upmanship but a way to help them keep things in perspective.â€ť
The perspective includes remembering that sports is only one part of a student-athleteâ€™s life. Stories about Gasser and Rank being courteous, friendly,
accommodating young adults are easy to find among their coaches and teachers.
â€śI think there are some amazing parallels with these two kids,â€ť said Brian Leair, Cedarburg High Schoolâ€™s athletic director and football coach.
â€śTheyâ€™re tough, theyâ€™re talented, and they both want to be the best they can be. Theyâ€™re the kind of kids you want to see playing for your team and your school.â€ť
Although their high school athletic careers will come to a close in a few months, these players see no end to their friendship.
â€śWe enjoy a lot of the same things and will stay in touch. We text a lot,â€ť Josh Gasser said.
As an appropriate send-off, theyâ€™ve 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 â€śbecause thatâ€™s halfway between Port Washington and Cedarburg,â€ť they said.
SMILES ASIDE, thereâ€™s no backing down for Port Washingtonâ€™s Josh Gasser (left) and Cedarburgâ€™s 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