By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – If two games are any indication, it appears the De Pere boys’ basketball team is ready to defend its WIAA Division 1 state championship.
Coming on the heels of a 40-point nonconference win against crosstown rival West De Pere on Dec. 3, the Redbirds opened their home schedule with an 84-38 rout of Green Bay Preble in Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) action on Dec. 5.
In the process, De Pere (2-0 overall, 1-0 FRCC) won its 32nd consecutive game dating back to last season.
The Redbirds were led by junior Zach Kinziger’s 21 points and eight rebounds.
Kinziger, a Division I verbal commit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also dished out six assists.
“Zach had a great floor game tonight,” De Pere Coach Brian Winchester said. “He identified where the help was coming from and delivered the ball where our shooters wanted it. His basketball decision-making was outstanding tonight.”
Senior Will Hornseth, a 6-foot-8 Division I commit to Northern Iowa, added 18 points, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
The Division I duo had the pick-and-roll working well, as indicated by Hornseth’s three monster dunks.
“When we get into those games, those two seem to be forming a good connection right now,” Winchester said. “That’s hard to guard.”
With the Redbirds leading only 10-6 a few minutes into the game, the defending state champs went on a 24-0 run to surge ahead 34-6.
Preble (1-3, 0-1) then showed some life by outscoring De Pere 10-6 to end the half.
“I liked how hard we played, but we just couldn’t make a shot,” first-year Preble Coach Rick Rozinski said. “If we had made some free throws and more shots, it could have been a bit closer. It took us a bit to understand how we needed to play, but I think as the game got going, we got into a better flow.”
Senior Jack Thorpe led the Hornets with 11 points.
“Jack is 6-foot-5 and Will (Hornseth) is 6-foot-8 and makes him look small,” Rozinski said. “Jack is going to get a lot of attention from opposing teams, but I thought he battled hard. He’s an unselfish player.”
Another key to De Pere’s success this season is senior Ben Willihnganz, who scored six points and grabbed five rebounds.
Willihnganz is back healthy after an injury-plagued junior season.
“It feels great,” Willihnganz said. “When you’re not fully healthy, your confidence suffers. I’m glad to be back and feeling good.”
The Redbirds had seven steals, committed only six turnovers and dished out 20 assists as a team.
“Every day in practice, the coaches are constantly harping on us to get in a stance and jump to the ball (defensively),” Willihnganz said. “Offensively, Coach says be deer and not squirrels. Deer run hard and fast and straight through, while squirrels hop back and forth.”
Winchester said he was most happy about how well his team passed the ball.
“I like our energy thus far,” he said. “Our depth is really good, and I like how the ball popped (with our passing). I liked how we made the extra pass to find the open shooter. When we do that, we’re hard to guard. We moved the ball a lot better tonight than we did against West De Pere.”
Rozinski said he feels De Pere is a notch above last season.
“I saw De Pere play West De Pere, and I walked away from that game thinking they are better than last season,” he said. “They’re bigger, stronger and I think they have more talent and better shooters. They are so hard to guard – you can’t leave anybody open the way they shoot. Honestly, I don’t know anybody who can beat them – they are so skilled and aggressive.”
Junior Pryce Gregoire also contributed 12 points, four rebounds and three assists for the Redbirds.