Brown Deer's Appleby rises to the top in just his third year
Named NOW All-Suburban Coach of the Year
Brown Deer Athletic Director and former basketball coach Mike Novak remembers that there was a certain "Wow!" factor when NOW Newspapers 2014 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year Kelly Appleby interviewed for the then-vacant head coaching position three years ago.
"Kelly put together a fantastic interview," said Novak, "and there were a lot of heavy hitters involved. We knew he was a teacher here and an assistant coach. His being an assistant coach was a factor in his favor, but it was how he handled himself that just blew us away.
"We just didn't see it coming."
Nor could anyone have seen what would happen this year. In just his third year, with 10 seniors removed from last year's Woodland Conference championship team, Appleby made history.
He cobbled together various disparate resources including transfers, former junior varsity players and a small handful of key returnees, to not only claim another league title but also earn the holy grail itself — a first WIAA Division 3 state championship.
Appleby recalls certain details of the interview clearly, but wasn't quite sure if he had knocked anybody out with his efforts that day.
"I remember that it was Mike (Novak) and (former coach) Andy Bauschelt who were in on the process along with two community members," Appleby said. "I remember being in class all day and I had to remind myself to put on a shirt and tie for the interview after school, which was an odd scenario for me.
"I remember being familiar with everyone (in the interview) and maybe it was just one of those moments. I may have gotten on a roll."
Which hasn't stopped since.
Not bad at all for a hometown-boy-made-good and self-described "above average" golfer and basketball player who graduated from Brown Deer in 2000.
The funny thing is in high school, Appleby actually gave up basketball late to focus on golf. That focus stayed that way for awhile as he got a degree in kinesiology from UW-Madison.
"And then I went back to Brown Deer," he said. "I loved my time there (in school). It's the kind of place you can feel comfortable growing up in."
He got into coaching because of his father, Scott. Also a golf instructor, Scott Appleby was a top-notch basketball player at Concordia University in Mequon back when it was a junior college. When he graduated from the school in 1975 he was the second-leading scorer in school history.
Scott Appleby went on to do well at Southern Utah and was eventually inducted into the Concordia University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. He is a key part of his son's coaching staff.
"He coached me as a kid," said Kelly Appleby of his father. "He didn't coach me in high school, but I'm a coach's son in a lot of ways."
Kelly Appleby has developed his own interesting way of doing things. As for that high-pressure, turnover producing, fast-break-loving mode of play of his, there's a simple reason why Kelly Appleby does it.
"In my mind, you play what you like to watch," he said. "If you like the backdoor cut, slowly-evolving pattern style of offense, then you coach that. Me, I like to watch people run around. I like to be part of the excitement. I want to be able to teach guys how to play, not how to run a play."
And it has worked. The Falcons were 15-9 in his first year and then went 21-4 last year and finished with a 17-1 record in Woodland play.
That season had a similar feel to this season as the Falcons got off to a good start and then ran into some high-level competition in December before righting itself and going on a 12-game winning streak before losing in the Division 3 state sectional semifinals to eventual state qualifier East Troy.
This year was anticipated to be a lot different from that. Appleby and his staff were supposed to be reloading with that huge senior class gone. The only returning starter was 6-9 senior center Devante Jackson and junior guard Lewrenzo Byers had come off the bench from time-to-time, but as far as experience went, that was it.
But with quick-emerging Nicolet transfer Jerry Luckett helping Jackson in the post and West Bend transfer/football star Zack Baun exploding onto the scene as a defensive whirlwind, the Falcons found a way.
After a rocky start in terms of team chemistry, Appleby fostered a family atmosphere.
"There just wasn't a whole lot of team coming back," Appleby said. "It was like starting from day one, back to square one. The process just took awhile. These guys didn't know each other very well. There just weren't a lot of friendships (coming back)."
But they bought in. The Falcons won their first six games before again running into a brutal stretch of games in December, losing four in a row, including two tough conference decisions to New Berlin Eisenhower and Pius XI.
But as they did the previous year, the Falcons would find their feet. With Appleby getting strong leadership from Jackson, the Falcons lost only once over their final 18 games, winning 15 straight to end the year. Brown Deer also got a bit of vengeance over East Troy in the sectional semifinal and dominated the favored Lodi in the state championship game.
"What I really liked," said Novak, who led the Falcons himself to a state tournament berth in 2002, "was that he (Appleby) was really engaged in total team development. He had the team playing in a really unselfish manner. It was fun to watch, because Kelly was always very positive in his approach. You could see he was having as much fun as the kids were.
"And more importantly, he could really relate well to the players, too. He really got along well with them and was very businesslike, too. Everything in some way related back to education. The kids learned, they remembered."
In short, they responded to their coach.
"He's a pretty cool coach, but when it gets important, you find he can coach, too," Jackson said. "You can really see his basketball IQ. He really helps everyone improve themselves."
In short, he makes an impression.
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