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Falcons basketball wins respect, Division 3 title

Brown Deer's Donovan Lucas drives for the basket during the championship game against Lodi on March 14.

Brown Deer's Donovan Lucas drives for the basket during the championship game against Lodi on March 14. Photo By Peter Zuzga

March 19, 2014

A hometown boy makes good.

It's too simple a characterization, but for Kelly Appleby, the coach of the newly crowned WIAA State Division 3 state basketball team from Brown Deer, it fits perfectly.

His Falcons (23-5) put on a dominating effort defensively and on the boards and stunned returning D3 state runner-up Lodi, 59-37, in the state championship game Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center in Madison.

"I'm a Brown Deer guy, from the town of Brown Deer," he said. "I came here three years ago with the goal of winning a state championship.

"We felt we had potential, it was unfulfilled until this year, but we had talked about this as a team. To be able to bring this back to Brown Deer to bring happiness to your school, your community, to your parents, means a great deal to all of us."

It didn't come easily. There were 10 seniors gone from the Woodland Conference championship team of a year ago, with a lot of new faces to blend in including defensive wizard Zack Baun and steady post Jerry Luckett, both transfer students.

Senior center Devante Jackson, who along with standout guard Lewrenzo Byers were virtually the only returning players from a year ago, said it was very hard at the beginning.

"We started off badly," he said. "In fact, at the start of the season coach wouldn't even say that we were a family. We didn't even like each other that much, but now, we can honestly call each other brothers. We're a big, happy family."

One that had gained a lot of respect in the bargain.

"We needed to get some respect," said Appleby. "We had a rough stretch in the middle of the season (four tough losses in a row), and then we were never on the state's radar the rest of the season (the Falcons were unranked going into the tourney)."

"We had the attitude that if you weren't going to give us respect, we were going to go out and take it."

They got some of it after the harrowing state semifinal win over Manitowoc Roncalli last Friday morning, the team's first win at state ever in three tries, and went after more of it Saturday afternoon against Lodi.

They used their trademark defensive pressure to grab a 10-7 lead at the quarter over the Blue Devils. In a physical game with many offensive fouls called in the first half, the Falcons missed a lot of inside shots despite a 29-13 advantage on the boards and clung to a narrow 21-19 advantage at the break.

"I felt comfortable with what we were doing because they were missing a lot of shots," said Appleby. Indeed, Lodi was only five of 21 from the field in that time.

But some changes proved instrumental.

"We went to a trapping man in the second half to pick things up a bit," said Appleby. "We got here (to state) by being aggressive all season and we weren't going to change."

If anything they picked up the intensity in the second half.

They got Lodi's main big man John Hatch in foul trouble and then they turned up the heat going on a 14-0 run to end the quarter. Luckett, who was quiet in the first half, had the first six points of the run and then Baun punctuated it with a smashing dunk off a clearout.

Lodi, who had taken two brief leads in the quarter, didn't know what hit them after the Falcons went ahead 40-27 going into the fourth.

"That's a heck of a team," said Blue Devils' star Jordan Shea. "Their length, their defensive pressure changes how teams play. We just didn't make the adjustments mentally."

"We just ran into a better team today," said Lodi coach Mitch Hauser.

Which never let up in the fourth as the run extended to 18-0 and the lead went to 46-29 with 5:40 left.

"It feels great to be in the middle of a run like that," said Luckett (12 points and 11 rebounds). "It was a great run. We got some dunks (including a tomahawk jam of his own). We just wanted to make sure we got back on defense, locked it in and stayed calm.

"We just wanted to be poised and take it home."

Which they did in stunning fashion. The Falcons dominated the glass (a 50-26 advantage including 21 offensive boards), held Lodi to just 24 percent shooting for the game (11 of 45), and even, when they wanted to, were able to pull out the ball and set up some easy layups.

"We were just going to keep that pressure on," said Luckett. "We just kept pushing."

Byers led the Falcons in scoring with 18 points including nine of 13 free throws while Jackson had nine points and 14 rebounds.

"This means everything to me," said Byers. "I love my teammates so much. We worked so hard in the off-season and the season. We really deserved this."

Because they were bringing happiness back to their community.

One of the prominent people taking team photos with his phone was former Brown Deer coach and now Athletic Director Mike Novak, who coached many good teams in his tenure and got to the state tournament in 2002 with his son Steve at the lead.

In his own quiet, unassuming way, Mike Novak was the happiest member of the Brown Deer family.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time," he said. "I'm so happy that they were able to bring the gold ball back to Brown Deer. I wished it would have happened 12 years ago (with Steve), but I'm just happy it happened now." He laughed.

So everyone could all share in it.

"There was a lot of hard work that went into this," said Luckett, "and it really paid off. We pulled it out. I'm just so happy for all of us."

If Novak was the happiest non-player in the Falcon family, then Jackson was the happiest player. He knew he had done his part of the job of bringing joy to Brown Deer.

"This has been amazing," he said. "It brought the whole school together. I've never seen a school so combined, so together."

But he almost didn't make it to the awards stand.

"When that final whistle blew, my heart almost stopped, I almost passed out I was so happy," he said.

But you had the feeling that someone in his "family" would have been there to catch him if he had.

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