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State Division 1 boys’ basketball preview: Redbirds are team to beat

By Rich Palzewic
With the 2023 Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association boys’ state tournament set for March 16-18 in Madison at the Kohl Center, locally, De Pere is seeking its first state title since 1934.
The 1934 Redbirds, under the tutelage of G.E. Braisher, beat New Lisbon in the Class B title game, 22-19.
De Pere is making its seventh state appearance, with the most recent coming in 2011 when it fell to Madison Memorial in the Division 1 title game in triple overtime, 80-78.
2023 state tournament
No. 1-seeded De Pere will face No. 4 Kettle Moraine in the first semifinal on Friday at 6:35 p.m., while No. 2 Arrowhead will battle No. 3 Neenah in the other semifinal.
The winners will face off in the Division 1 state title game on Saturday at approximately 20 minutes after the completion of the Division 2 game, which will begin at 6:35 p.m.
De Pere (28-0) vs. Kettle Moraine (18-10)
De Pere comes into the state tournament with a perfect record and a No. 1 state ranking.
Winners of the Fox River Classic Conference, the Redbirds have three players averaging more than 15 points per game, led by Johnny Kinziger’s 18.8 average.
Kinziger is a Division I commit to Illinois State University.
“If you notice, Johnny’s point totals have gone down the last couple of seasons, but his assist and rebound numbers are up,” De Pere coach Brian Winchester said. “That shows how
unselfish he is. He has great talent around him, and he’s recognized that and has let his teammates take some of the burden. He’s also a great defender.”
Will Hornseth, a skilled 6-foot-8 junior averaging 16.8 points per game, is also garnering Division I interest.
Zach Kinziger, the younger brother of Johnny, is pumping in 15.5 points per game and also turning heads in the Division I college ranks.
“We’ve had a great year so far, and we’re happy to be heading to Madison,” Winchester said. “One of our goals was to get to this point. Now that we’re here, I think we have a good chance to compete for a state championship.”
De Pere also has capable role players, with Pryce Gregoire (6.6 ppg), Hogan Demovsky (5.6) and Gabe Herman (3.7) adding valuable minutes and strong defense.
In their four postseason games thus far, the Redbirds are allowing only 37.5 points per game.
“Our kids are tough and get after it defensively,” Winchester said. “Gabe — who is a football player first — understands how to play and position himself. Will protects the rim and I don’t think Hogan gets enough credit for us. He makes some key 3s, but on the defensive end, he’s improved immensely from last year. In my 16 years as head coach, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone improve as much defensively from one year to the next. As a freshman last season, Zach might have been a little bit of a defensive liability, but he’s turned into one of the best on-ball defenders in the state — period. Our defense is not an individual thing — it’s a group effort.”
Kettle Moraine coach Trevon Hughes, who played for the Wisconsin Badgers from 2006-10, is very impressed by De Pere.
“They are a tough matchup — I’ve been keeping my eye on them all season,” he said. “(Johnny Kinziger) is a stud, and I like the way he plays. He knows his spots in the game and is savvy. (Hornseth) is a great inside presence and can do a lot of things. It’s a great matchup, and they pose a lot of problems for us, especially in the front court with their size. I’m expecting us to play our best basketball and play with grit.”
The Lasers, members of the Classic 8 Conference, are led by junior point guard Drew Wagner, who averages 18 points and seven rebounds per game.
Additionally, junior Will Stuckey averages 13 points and seven rebounds per game, while 6-foot-6 senior Joah Bodden averages 10 points and eight rebounds.
Kettle Moraine began the season 7-7, but has gone 11-3 since.
Included in that strong finish was a 70-69 victory over Arrowhead, another team competing in the Division 1 state tournament.
The Lasers also won the WIAA Division 2 state football championship last fall — beating West De Pere in the title game, 27-10.
“We have several players on the basketball team who played football, so it took them a while to get their basketball legs,” Hughes said. “I think that contributed, at least partly, to our slow start.”
Winchester said Kettle Moraine is a great team.
“Watching them on film, I see they run at least eight different sets offensively,” he said. “I’m impressed with Wagner — he gets to the rim, uses his body well and plays through contact. Stuckey is a good shooter who can also get to the rim. We have to be prepared for their sets and their dribble-drive penetration when things break down. I think it’ll be a competitive game, and we’ll have to play well to win.”
Arrowhead (26-2) vs. Neenah (18-10)
The Arrowhead-Neenah semifinal matchup will see two Green Bay Phoenix recruits square off.
Arrowhead’s Mac Wrecke, averaging 18 points per game, and Neenah’s Cal Klesmit (18.5 ppg) have both signed to play for the Phoenix beginning this fall.
“I’m sure that will be a big storyline,” Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said. “Mac and Cal know each other off the court, so I’m sure there will be some extra motivation with playing against one another. I know Mac is looking forward to the challenge.”
Haase said Wrecke has done a tremendous job of being unselfish this season.
“You don’t see many kids who can score like he can, be OK with not maybe being the leading scorer in a game,” he said. “He’s scored 1,998 career points at Arrowhead. His assists have gone up and his defense has gone way up — he’s extremely unselfish.”
Arrowhead, ranked No. 3 in the state, won the Classic 8 Conference with a 15-1 record.
Besides Wrecke, the Warhawks have three other players averaging double digits in scoring: Austin Villarreal (17.9), Bennett Basich (16) and Jace Gilbert (11.1).
The junior Basich, who is also averaging more than nine rebounds per game, has a Division I scholarship offer from Southern Illinois.
“We have great depth — maybe the best I’ve had since I’ve been coach,” Haase said. “We have four kids who are great scorers, and a few who come off the bench who could be great scorers if they got more minutes. We also play hard on defense.”
Neenah, making its state-record 29th appearance at the state tournament, is a member of the Fox Valley Association and the defending Division 1 state champ.
Brady Corso is the only other Rockets player scoring in double digits with his 16.1 points per game average.
“We’ve been more efficient on offense, playing better defense and taking care of the ball better as of late,” Neenah coach Lee Rabas said. “We’ve been up and down a bit this season.”
Klesmit, whose brother plays at Wisconsin, had 21 assists in his team’s 93-65 victory over Superior in a sectional final.
“Cal is good enough where he doesn’t need to always score for us,” Rabas said. “He only had seven points (against Superior), but if you were at the game, you were mesmerized by how he threw the ball around. It was a clean 21 assists — had guys not missed some easy layups, he might have had 25 (assists). It was a thing of beauty.”
Rabas said Arrowhead is a big challenge.
“They’re big, physical, athletic and have guys who can score,” he said. “When you get to this point, all the teams can play. It will be an interesting matchup for fans across the state.”

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