Seniors led with class, unselfishness
Seven guys grew up playing together, culminating in a state title
By Greg Bates
MADISON – Brian Winchester remembers a group of second-grade De Pere kids that enjoyed playing basketball.
Over the years, that original group thinned out, but six guys — with the addition of another player in middle school — stuck with it all the way until their senior year.
That group’s dedication to basketball and to each other culminated in a state championship.
In their final two seasons, the senior class registered a record of 55-3, winning all 30 games this year and 37 of its final 38 contests.
Most importantly, the guys won the final game of their career.
John Kinziger, Gabe Herman, Ethan Ramos, Caleb Dietsche, Zack Kane and Trey Plos all started playing together at 7 years old. Hogan Demovsky came into the class as a fifth grader to round out the crew.
Those seniors made this year’s state title run remarkable and memorable. It was a special group for Winchester, who wrapped up his 16th season as the Redbirds boys’ basketball coach.
“The whole group just stuck together and played,” Winchester said. “Gabe’s first love, I think, is football. But he’s a competitor and he just loves basketball as well. So that class just stuck together, whether it was Gabe or Ethan Ramos. Then Zack Kane and Trey Plos, obviously, don’t play for us a lot, and they get in toward the end of games, but those two kids worked their tails off in practice every day. Caleb Dietsche, he’s played a little bit for us this year, but works his tail off every day. So that whole senior class is just so special and, obviously, capping it off with a state championship, how fun is that.”
Winning a state title is extremely satisfying for Herman. The star quarterback was forced to miss the first six games of the basketball season due to a season-long football injury.
“Selfishly, it means a lot. My senior year started off with a torn MCL, and it’s just tough,” said Herman, holding back tears. “There’s nothing else that could have made this year better than getting a gold ball for basketball.
“For our team, Winchester deserves this more than anyone else I know. He puts in so many hours that people don’t even see or notice. The past two years we just came up short, I just feel bad for him. He puts in so many hours and he can only control so much. But to get it done today, it just means so much.”
Kinziger became the star of the senior class, being named co-Mr. Basketball by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association this season.
An Illinois State University signee, Kinziger became De Pere’s all-time leading scorer — finishing with
2,134 points — took over the top spot in the Green Bay metro area in scoring and became just the 49th player in state boys’ basketball history to surpass 2,000 career points.
“If there’s a way to describe a high school kid — I shouldn’t say kid, young man — is a pro,” Winchester said. “He’s a pro in the way that he’s handled everything that’s come his way from individual accolades, being humble, working with young players, giving time to young players. Just being somebody who represents the face of your program, on a personal level, just being in practice with him every day. I think coaches, myself, we love players who love basketball as much as we do. I enjoy spending time in the gym with players and trying to improve them. When you have somebody like him every day in practice who not only matches, but exceeds your competitiveness and your love of basketball, that’s special. I’m a little bit sad we’re not going to wake up and get to go practice tomorrow morning.”
With Kinziger as the senior catalyst, Demovsky became an every-game starter. A key role player, he consistently knocked down clutch 3-pointers and picked up big steals and blocks.
Herman started a number of games this season and was relied on as a defensive stopper who also hit big shots.
The two guys knew their roles and filled them well.
“For me and Gabe, maybe being the fourth, fifth guys, we can’t be greedy,” Demovsky said. “You’ve got to know there’s three guys who are going to try to score and are very good at scoring and you’ve just got to do the things that will help the team win and I think that’s what we did all year.”
Each senior on the team accepted their role and played off of one another.
“It’s always been like that for me, I’ve always just kind of been the dirty defensive guy, that’s going back to fifth grade,” Herman said. “I feel like the coaches did a fantastic job with everything this year, but especially with telling us to embrace our role regardless of what it is — whether it’s Zack Kane in practice every day pushing us or any of those scout team guys that push us every single day. I’m telling you, it’s every single day. It’s not easy at our practices. If everyone just embraces their role, everyone’s going to get better and we’re going to be the best versions of ourselves as a whole.”
The seniors were a tight-knit group that shared interests outside of basketball.
“Not only are we in the gym together, but we’re also hanging out, whether it’s on weekdays or on weekends,” Kinziger said. “If Gabe ever wanted to throw a football around, I was there for him. It was whatever to get each other better at whatever we wanted.”
It was that cohesiveness away from the basketball court that made the seniors so close when they were playing the game they love.
“I think we know each other so well,” Demovsky said. “I was the last one to join, but I always felt accepted and I was never left out. I’ve only played two years [on varsity], but the two years I’ve been on the team I feel like there’s no better group of guys to play with than John, Gabe, all the other seniors that you don’t always see on the court. It’s really special to play together.”
“Our main goal coming into this year for us seniors especially was to walk out of the Kohl Center with a gold ball,” Kinziger said. “It just means a lot for us. … We were all emotional in the locker room knowing this is our last [game].”
The success of this year’s team started with the seniors and their leadership. They meshed well with their younger teammates and built an unstopped unit.
“There’s good players in that group, but then the additions of a Will Hornseth and a Zach Kinziger, a Pryce Gregoire and the list goes on with our team, you add the different classes. I think the thing that’s so special about the senior class is that they made it great for those young guys to come in and help us win,” Winchester said. “Sometimes you get classes who are like, ‘It’s our senior year, this is my turn. I’ve waited around for it, it’s my turn.’ They’re not like that. They’re like, ‘Let’s go win a state championship.’
In order to do that, they understand that they need all of the parts and they make it OK for our young guys to be successful. That’s the key of this class, they’re humble and they’re competitive and they want to win. Completely unselfish.”