North Dakota State recruit controls game, Vukovich frustrated

East Troy players (from left) Eli Hart, Alex Gilson-Calderon, Michael Schaefer, Michael Polakoski, Logan Mitchell and AJ Vukovich walk off the court for the final time this season Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

MADISON – Darryl Rayfield has forgotten more basketball than most people will ever know.

The guy is a hoops aficionado, with an unmatched record as a player and head coach and an impressive pedigree, as his son Rion, a former professional player overseas, is considered by some as the best basketball player in Burlington Catholic Central history.

So when the seven-year East Troy High School head coach, who has compiled a 136-43 (76 percent) record, says a basketball player is special, it has a pretty good chance of being true.

Enter Prescott senior point guard Peter Brookshaw.

“Their point guard (Brookshaw) is really, really good, trust me, I’ve seen a lot of them,” Rayfield said in the post-game press conference. “He plays with great IQ, he’s always under his feet, and he makes everybody better.”

Brookshaw, who averages 30 points per game for the Cardinals, was a monster during Thursday’s Division 3 state semifinal at the Kohl Center in Madison, finishing with 34 points in a 65-53 victory over the young Trojans.

East Troy finishes its season at 21-6, while Prescott improves to 25-2 and advances to Saturday’s state championship game against Valders, which won an overtime buzzer beater over Kettle Moraine Lutheran.

“Prescott has multi-skilled kids that can all put it on the floor,” Rayfield said. “They make you do things that you never do most of the year because they can all shoot it. They don’t just do it with pressure, they do it because they’re so skilled. It was no surprise. They score a lot, because they are so efficient.”

“We found ourselves chasing too much in the half court. They have all these guys closing out on you and switching, and they get underneath you. Their zone makes you shoot 3’s. What they want you to do is take 3’s because they’re so good at it, they make you fall in love with them.”

 

East Troy’s Quentin Lottig watches to see if his 3-pointer is good Thursday, while the Trojans look on with hope. (Mike Ramczyk/Southern Lakes Newspapers)

Cardinals contain Vukovich

Coupled with red-hot first half shooting from Prescott was the fact that 6-foot-5 East Troy standout sophomore AJ Vukovich was neutralized.

Vukovich, who averages 20 points and 10 rebounds, was held to 17 and nine, which isn’t that far off but what mattered was the cumbersome manner in which he had to fight for everything.

Utilizing a 2-3 zone, Prescott’s disciplined defense pushed the Trojans to the perimeter and cut off driving lanes for Vukovich, who faced double and triple teams and finished 6-for-15 from the floor. Senior center Nick Buordo, an active 6-foot-6 inside presence, benefited when Vukovich passed out of double and even triple teams for easy layups and dunks.

Vukovich led the team, along with Logan Mitchell, with four assists.

“I thought they did a really good job,” said Vukovich on Prescott’s game plan. “When I was trying to drive, they packed it in and forced me to take outside shots. I have to work on my outside shot, it’s a little inconsistent. In the beginning of the game, I was settling for those.”

“Every time I went in the lane, there were hands all over. It was really tough. I thought they did a really good job.”

Prescott head coach Nick Johnson had high praise for Vukovich. The Cardinals drew the No. 3 seed, while the Trojans earned the 2. Johnson sees his team as the best in Division 3.

“We played very well against a very good team, and we executed our game plan to perfection,” Johnson said. “We picked our poison with No. 30 (Vukovich), he’s one of the best players in the state. We played 5 to 10 feet off him and made him shoot threes. He just didn’t want to shoot out there, and that’s what we were hoping. He’s a heck of a player.”

“Going into the tournament, we felt we were very deserving of the 1 seed. It is what it is. I don’t feel we get a lot of respect on our side of the state. It doesn’t really matter, but we definitely played with a chip on our shoulder.”

Nick Buordo throws down a two-handed jam in the first half. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

The Trojans were held to 5-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc. Quentin Lottig kept the Prescott defense honest, knocking down two triples late in the game, including one that cut the large second-half deficit to 59-53 with 2:28 to play.

However, East Troy was called for an intentional foul on Vukovich after what looked like an average reach-in foul on the ensuing possession, and things spiraled downward as the Cardinals closed the game on a 6-0 run, all on free throws, to seal it.

A front-running team that breezed through the Rock Valley Conference and played well through the postseason, East Troy found itself in the twilight zone of playing catch-up basketball.

“It was the correct call, I didn’t agree that they should’ve got two shots from it and the ball,” Rayfield said of the intentional foul. “It took a little momentum away, but making two turnovers before that hurt worse than the call.”

“We didn’t have to play catch-up too much all year, trust me, it’s no fun. We haven’t been in that situation. Especially when you have multi-skilled kids and the good guard they have, it’s hard to play catch-up.”

It didn’t help that East Troy committed 15 turnovers to Prescott’s seven.

 

Brookshaw unstoppable throughout

Brookshaw, who is committed to play college baseball at Division 1 North Dakota State, hit five of the Cardinals’ pivotal six free throws in the final 2:18, displaying his calm demeanor and completing a start-to-finish shooting clinic.

With 10-for-20 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, Brookshaw added 11 of 14 from the charity stripe, three rebounds and two assists.

“I tried to think of it as another game and tried to slow the game down,” Brookshaw said. “When I was driving, they doubled. I kicked to my shooters, and they were knocking them down.”

Three-pointers from Brookshaw and Parker Nielsen, who added 15 points, helped Prescott open a 22-12 lead, but East Troy was able to cut it to six before halftime.

In the second half, Peter Brookshaw snatches the ball from AJ Vukovich on a crucial possession. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

Buordo, who scored 14 points and added 11 rebounds for East Troy, sparked a late first-half surge with two emphatic, two-handed slam dunks. Meanwhile, Vukovich powered inside for a layup, and guard Jared Brehm pulled up at the top of the key for a jumper to make it 33-27 at the half.

But second half adjustments offered little resistance, as Brookshaw and company were able to break through traps and fire out to a 14-point lead in the first five minutes, buoyed by four East Troy turnovers.

Prescott built another 14-point advantage at 55-41 with four minutes left, but East Troy wouldn’t back down.

Lottig hit a triple, and Buordo, Vukovich and Mitchell helped spark a mini-comeback with inside buckets.

For the game, East Troy was held to 41 percent shooting and only got to the line 13 times, hitting eight. Prescott converted on 46 percent of its 3-point attempts.

Michael Polakoski, who was the Trojans’ second-leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, was held to six.

“They really more or less face-guarded him,” Rayfield said of Polakoski. “They took him out, and we missed him. But he had a heck of a year, he can really shoot it. We didn’t get him enough touches.”

Rayfield said playing from behind wore his kids down. Being a man-to-man defensive squad, the Trojans needed to do a lot of chasing, and it took a lot of energy. East Troy plays a seven-man rotation.

 

A culture of winning

East Troy has become a basketball hot bed, thanks to the tutelage of Rayfield, who shows an uncanny ability to get the most out of talented players, pushing them from good to great.

Rayfield’s seven-year run began with the three-headed monster of Nate Dodge, who played Division 1 basketball at Army and now plays at UW-Stevens Point, and the 6-foot-8 Prahl twins, Brett and Alex, who went on play for D1 UW-Milwaukee. That trio made state in 2013, and Rayfield returned in 2015.

Open enrollment has helped. Vukovich is from Mukwonago, and other crucial pieces like Lottig and Mitchell drive from neighboring communities.

Though East Troy is small with 587 students, talented athletes from Waukesha and Walworth counties simply want to be part of a winning team, and reach their hoops potential.

“It starts from the bottom up, from our hoops club,” Vukovich said. “Getting in the gym every day. Kids that love basketball want to come play at East Troy because we have a great coaching staff, and we play as a team. It’s always fun every single year to be on a winning team.”

Jared Brehm battles for position as the first half buzzer ticked down, just before hitting a jump shot. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

“I love the group of guys here, and there’s nothing better than East Troy basketball.”

Rayfield said his kids are “gym rats,” where they’re constantly in the gym, putting up shots, working hard and wanting to get better through sacrifice.

“We have kids that play a lot of basketball,” said Rayfield, who paused to acknowledge Vukovich’s high praise before speaking. “Our gym’s open all the time, and we have a lot of enthusiasm. If the gym’s not open, they’re calling up to get the gym open.”

“It’s a really nice situation for a small town. They love to play, and it’s easy to be good. The parents are tremendous. They’ve bought into how much work it takes. I ask a lot of our younger kids, and we do it the right way. It’s a lot of work, done early (in their careers).”

Rayfield said his former players help carry on the Trojan success by coming back to help out with the team. It’s no accident that East Troy has advanced to Madison three times in the past six years.

“There’s a lot of kids that come back in the summer time,” Rayfield said. “After they leave, they come back and play with our younger guys. The success that they’ve had rubs off on the stuff we’re doing now. That makes us successful. It’s helped to make us very competitive, it’s the total team concept and we’re connected as a basketball community.”

 

 

 

 

 
 

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