All in the family: Grzesk foursome thrives on, off court
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – When it comes to basketball, there might not be a more knowledgeable, dedicated and talented group of area coaches/players living under the same roof than the Grzesk family.
Husband and father, Gary, the head coach of the St. Norbert College men’s team and former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) player, is probably the most well-known of the bunch.
Wife and mother, Liz, also had success as a player at Youngstown State and as an assistant coach at UWGB.
Son, Garrett, a senior at Notre Dame Academy, is currently averaging 12.6 points per game, while freshman daughter, Gracie, also playing at Notre Dame, has already been offered a Division I scholarship from Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth.
“You could say basketball runs in our family,” said Gary, who had his 2020-21 season at St. Norbert canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve been around college basketball for 25 years, and this is the first year not being around a team and coaching. It’s been hard, and I feel bad for our senior players.”
There’s a silver lining in having his season canceled, Gary said.
“I’ve gotten to see my kids play when they allow fans, and that’s been nice,” he said. “I’ve had more time.”
When asked how it’s been having her husband around more, Liz joked about it.
“If he knew how to cook dinner, it might be a bit better,” she laughed. “Seriously, it’s been good for him to have some time to spend with the kids and family. We’ve spent so much time together because of COVID-19, and you can’t replace that family time.”
Liz said overall, the family is “very competitive.”
“You don’t want to play a game of Monopoly with us or a game of ‘Horse’ outside,” she said. “Everybody is competitive. We don’t play one-on-one anymore, though.”
When Gary and Liz are in the stands, it’s natural to think the coaching side of them wants to critique their kids’ play, but they try not to do that.
“I’ve tried hard to watch games as a parent and fan,” said Gary. “Having the background in coaching, it’s hard not to sometimes, but for the most part, I won’t give feedback after games unless I’m asked.”
It’s hard to avoid basketball talk at the dinner table, but Liz said they try to keep it to a minimum.
“Basketball is a big part of our lives,” she said. “There’s always something basketball-related going on, so it’s hard to avoid it altogether. It’s year-round and non-stop. Even with Gary and me, I’m more offensive-minded, and he’s all about defense, so we talk strategy and try to relay that to the kids.”
‘There will be no favors’
After finishing 12-12 last season, the Notre Dame boys are currently 13-5 and playing good ball.
“We have a good group of seniors,” said the 6-foot-5 Garrett. “Everyone is competitive and has bought into the team.”
The Tritons last finished above .500 during the 2017-18 season when they were 17-7.
Garrett recently announced his commitment to play at St. Norbert, and Gary said he’ll cherish the time his son is there.
“Whether he starts every game or doesn’t play a minute during his four years, it will be incredible to have him on the team,” Gary said. “I’m looking forward to it. The toughest part will be coaching my kid and figuring out if and when he deserves to play, and how much. I’ve always said, ‘If I coach my son, I want him to be the best player out there so everyone knows why he’s playing, or the worst one so he won’t play at all.’”
Gary said he’s ultra-competitive and wants to win, so “there will be no favors” when it comes to Garrett playing.
“He’ll have an opportunity to play, but how much and how early is yet to be determined,” said Gary. “He’s got good skill – he can score in the post and shoot from the outside – but it’s a big jump from high school to college. We have a competitive group, so it would be difficult for any freshman to play. Garrett knows I’ll probably be tougher on him than other players.”
Garrett said he doesn’t quite know what to expect at St. Norbert, but he does know his dad will be tough on him.
“I haven’t had my mom or dad coach me in basketball since I was young,” he said. “It will be good for me, and I’ll look back on it after four years and be glad it happened.”
When Gary played at Green Bay in the mid-1990s, one of his teammates was Jeff Nordgaard, who also has a senior son, Dawson, playing at West De Pere.
“Whenever my dad or Jeff get brought up, usually people want to talk about Dawson and me,” said Garrett. “We played summer AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball together, so we know one another.”
‘It caught me off guard’
The Notre Dame girls are currently ranked No. 1 in the state in the latest Wissports.net Division 2 Coaches Poll, and Gracie is a big reason why.
At 5-foot-11, she’s currently averaging 12.2 points per game for the 19-1 Tritons, who are coached by Sara Rohde.
She’s scored 15 or more points in nine games this season, with a career-high of 19 tallied on two separate occasions.
“We’ve had a tough non-conference schedule, and that’s helped us,” said Gracie. “We got some good experience right away. We’ve had a great start and play together well, and we have great senior leadership. I like having Sara as my coach – she pushes me lots, always gives good feedback and understands the game.”
Rohde, who’s from Rapid River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, was a player at Green Bay when Liz was an assistant.
“Sara was at Green Bay for two years while I was there,” said Liz. “She was a great competitor and player, and it’s translated over to her coaching.”
When Borseth offered Gracie a chance to play at Green Bay after leaving Notre Dame, she said she wasn’t expecting that.
“It caught me off guard,” said Gracie. “It’s exciting to see the hard work paying home.”
Liz has also coached Gracie’s AAU team, the Purple Aces, for many years.
“I enjoy having my mom as my coach, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Gracie. “It’s been a good experience to have her push me harder than everyone else and have great coaching.”