Grafton prepares for life below the rim

By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The Grafton High School boys’ basketball team is going to have a different look this season.

“We’ve been very blessed to have size (in the past),” coach Damon James said.

Those blessings, 6-feet, 7-inch Brock Heffner and 6-7 J.P. Benzschawel, received their diplomas in spring.

Heffner was chosen to the North Shore Conference first team last season after averaging 21.6 points per game, second in the league, and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Benzschawel received honorable mention after averaging 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

The Black Hawks, however, return sophomore Michael McNabb Jr., a 6-4 guard who started with four seniors last season and was chosen for the NSC third team.

McNabb was 10th in the NSC in scoring at 12.6 points per game, shot 58% from the field (58-for-100) and went 23-for-65 on three-pointers. He grabbed 4.8 rebounds per game and had 1.9 assists per game.

McNabb is already on pace to be one of the team’s leaders.

“He has taken a step in that direction. The guys definitely respect him. He puts in the work outside practice, and the guys see that,” James said.

Junior guards Bennett Hildebrand and Chase Norton are the other two who played minutes on varsity last season.

“That’s our experience,” James said. “We’re very young.”

Nine seniors graduated this spring, including starting guards Tyler Tsui and Dominic Voiland.

With Heffner and Benzschawel also gone, inside play will “be bigs by committee,” James said.

Forwards include juniors Matthew Zabel (6-3), Josh Lee-O’Bryant (6-3) and Clayton Wiziarde (6-2). The latter two both played football and bring physicality, James said.

The Hawks get back 6-5 senior Zach Brace, who didn’t play last season due to Covid-19. He is easing back into things, James said.

Senior Hunter Schmitt, a 6-1 star baseball outfielder, “does some good things” at guard, James said. “He’s a great teammate and works hard.”

With such a young team, James expects improvement with each contest.

“Some nights it will be fun. Some nights it will be stressful,” he said. “As long as we’re making progress every game.”

The team’s goal, he said, is to “compete and execute at a high level.”

When it comes to the conference, the common belief is Homestead has the edge since it returns 80% of its roster.

All five of last season’s NSC first team players are playing with Division 1 college teams this season — Heffner is with the University of Hawaii. Four of the five second-teamers and three of the five third-teamers were seniors last season.

Homestead returns second-teamer Adam Riese and third-teamer Tim Franks.

“It’s just going to be a dogfight every night,” James said. “Any given night, somebody could beat somebody. It makes for an interesting conference season.”

Cedarburg won the NSC last season with a 16-2 record. The Hawks were fourth at 11-7 and went 14-9 overall, dropping a heart-breaking 70-66 overtime game to Brown Deer in the second round of the playoffs.

Grafton was to host Kaukauna, one of the top-ranked teams in the state, on Tuesday, starts NSC play at West Bend West on Friday and hosts Port Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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