By Michael S. Hoey


The Badger High School boys basketball team is under new leadership as the Forrest Larson era ended last year with the retirement of the Wisconsin Hall of Fame coach. The John Witte era begins Nov. 27 at home against Grayslake North.

Witte is in his second year teaching math at Badger. Last year Witte coached the junior varsity 2 team. Before coming to Badger, Witte worked in student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and was a volunteer basketball and football coach at Whitewater High School.

Witte said he learned a lot from Larson in his one year in the program.

“Coach Larson was an incredible coach and an incredible motivator,” Witte said. “His intensity and love for the game is second to none.”

Witte said the best thing he learned was how to control the flow of practices. Larson’s drill work came from decades of experience, and Witte said he has already benefitted from adopting some of his concepts early in his own career.

“Coach Larson was able to get these players to work hard every play,” Witte said. “I would like to think that will be our main similarity.”

Witte said Larson was able to get his kids to dig deep no matter the situation or score, and the kids were always willing to work hard for him. Witte said he wants to continue that culture of hard work.

“No matter what the situation is, these players and coaches have to work hard,” Witte said. “At times the game gets complex, but if you are going 100 percent and pushing your teammates to do the same, sooner or later success in inevitable.”

Witte said promoting from within was important to the kids. They are familiar with coaches that have been at Badger and already have a relationship with them. Witte said he has worked with the kids for a year already and had one year to see what worked and what didn’t under Larson’s leadership. He said he can adopt some of Larson’s philosophies because the players are already familiar with them.

Tyler Leech will assist at the varsity level. Matt Pella will coach the JV1 team. Dave Owens will coach the JV2 team with Henri Lorenzi serving as an assistant coach. Witte said his coaching staff is committed to the program’s vision, continuity and unity. The program’s philosophy is “one Program, one team,” and he said every coach has bought into it. The same message is delivered at every level – work hard and get better every day.

Witte said seniors Kale Rodgers, Christian Johnston and Austin Popenhagen and junior Grant DuMez will lead this year’s team. The offense will be patient and look to let the ball find the right shot, Witte said. Great ball movement, being tough with the ball and making the defense work on every possession will define the offense.

“Our team understands that no one wants to play defense for long periods of time, so if we can control the ball and work to find a great opportunity every possession, that will bring success,” Witte said.

Defensively, Witte wants his Badgers to be tough, put pressure on the opposing offense and play defense as a unit. Witte said the team focuses on defense at every practice.

“We want to defend, force a contested shot and rebound,” Witte said. “We do not want our opponents to get multiple possessions on a trip down the court.”

Witte believes he has enough shooters to spread out opposing defenses. He also says the team is big and strong as several players dedicated themselves to the weight room in the offseason. Witte said his team will not shy away from contact. In fact, they will welcome it.

Witte sees two main things the team needs to do to be successful – buy in to the culture of the program and believe they can win. He said buy-in from players and parents can be powerful, but confidence is also key.

The Badgers have some size this year with Popenhagen checking in at 6-foot-5 and Will Faul at 6-4. Witte says the Badgers have a good mix of youth and experience. Rodgers, Johnston and DuMez each saw significant minutes last year. Popenhagen and Spencer Bishop also gained valuable varsity experience. Witte said those players have helped coach up the less experienced players.

Witte said he is not as familiar with the Southern Lakes Conference as other coaches with just one year under his belt, but he knows that Elkhorn and Westosha Central have a lot back from last year. The Elks were 17-8 last year (10-4 and third in the SLC). The Falcons (22-5, 11-3 and second in the SLC) made it to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament last year and return three starters.

“I think we can compete with anyone in the conference,” Witte said.


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