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Brown Deer, a hoops team of destiny and fate

Falcons still basking in state title

April 16, 2014

The "hometown boy makes good" angle wasn't something that Brown Deer boys basketball coach Kelly Appleby was looking for when he took over the job three years ago, but now, after the Falcons stunning WIAA State D3 championship earned on March 15, he'll take it.

"I've just been having fun the last month or so," he said. "I've been connecting with so many people who have come and gone in my life and now because of Brown Deer and basketball, they have re-connected with me."

That's a good story, but maybe he'll pass on that one for awhile and go with a broader theme, one that's been stuck in his head ever since the WIAA sectional semifinal victory over East Troy on March 6.

Appleby and the Falcons already were on their way toward a great season by that time, having repeated as Woodland Conference East Division champions and then claiming a WIAA regional title. Then came that victory over East Troy, leaving the Falcons just one step from the WIAA state tournament.

Appleby admitted that he hadn't really thought about the big picture until just that moment.

"And I was driving home after that game and sitting at a stop light, twiddling my thumbs, just thinking and the picture came to me," he said. "I started thinking that we could seriously and really win this thing (state). We could be a team of fate, of destiny."

That's exactly what happened. Wins over Ripon, Manitowoc Roncalli and Lodi followed, followed with a presentation of a big gold state trophy. The first one in the program's history. It's a heck of a story and no doubt will get better and grander with time.

The details are straight out of a movie script.

The Falcons replaced 10 seniors off a league title team of a year ago, and rebuilt around one full-time returning starter (senior all-state center Devante Jackson) and one heavy duty sub (guard Lewrenzo Byers).

The kids who moved in (football star Zack Baun and former Nicolet role player Jerry Luckett) elevated their games greatly and everyone else just played their guts out, as the Falcons finished with a 15-game winning streak and a 23-5 final record.

There were the senior posts Jackson and Luckett, who developed the symmetry and friendship needed to dominate underneath.

"Those two really helped separate us (from the rest of the state field)," Appleby said.

An unsung leader of the bunch was junior point guard Tony Thomas. Byers did occasionally work at the point, but Thomas did the heavy lifting this season, said Appleby.

"He's just a competitor," said Appleby. " ... He just has tenacity."

People have also been tenacious when it comes to getting in touch with Appleby.

Some of the favorite moments of the last few weeks go back to his time in middle school in Brown Deer and his AAU basketball teammates.

"And those guys and their parents are the ones getting in touch with me," he said. "Some weren't even aware I was coach, so there was no need for them to try and get in touch, but they saw my name.

"Not only were they surprised that Brown Deer had won but who was behind it (me)."

Also strong figures in Brown Deer education have put their happy two cents worth in, including Jim Carpenter and local legend Joe Klucharich, whose name is on the football field.

"He dropped off a framed copy of the front page (of the NOW section) after we won, and that is so cool," Appleby said. "He just came in and put it on my desk .. . . Everyone is still congratulating me and I still don't know how to react and that's probably a good thing, but it's not getting old (laughs).

"'Hometown boy makes good'," he said with a laugh. "Wow, that really wasn't a goal of mine, but it's clearly worked its way into this conversation and I keep telling everyone that it wasn't just me, but a group accomplishment."

One that'll change a little bit next year. He's currently busy at work with his second day job, that of coaching the boys' golf team (he was a golf-first guy back in high school at Brown Deer) waiting for the fairways to firm up and for the greens to soften up.

He even has one of his basketball guys on the team, reserve post Ryan Hudson.

But as much as he would like to focus on telling his kids which iron to use to better execute a fade, or how a particular putt will break on a particular green, he can't help but think basketball. He's still organizing medals, patches, plaques and other post-season awards to distribute

"So much stuff," he laughed.

He will miss Jackson, Luckett and Hudson, but they are the only seniors on the team. Top-flight performers like Thomas, Baun and Byers will be back along with top subs Jordan Milam, Donovan Lucas and Craig Schimenz.

The team will be much smaller (Jackson is 6-9 and Luckett 6-6) but it may also be faster as players from solid junior varsity and freshmen squads fight for positions on the high-octane, fast-tempo squad.

Appleby can't wait to find out how it all works out.

"I'm very excited about next year," he said. "I think I'm going to really enjoy my guards."

In the meantime, he continue to accept the handshakes and hugs that go along with being a hometown boy made good.

"It's amazing," he said. "So many things have to go your way in order for something like this to happen and they happened for us this year."

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