It's going to remain all about the process for the Franklin boys basketball team for sometime, as the Sabers fight for respectability.
That's why there are going to be wondrous moments this season, such as sophomore guard Jacob Vonderwell's coast-to-coast, banked-in runner near the buzzer to beat host West Allis Central, 67-65, in the semifinals of Central's Holiday Hoops Classic on Dec. 27. Then there are going to be moments like the next day when a stout Waunakee defense held the Sabers scoreless for over 10 minutes in the second half en route to a 59-43 defeat in the finals of that same tournament.
"Sometimes the guys have very good intentions, but not everything kicks in the way we want it to," said coach Tyler Podoll. "But the way they play (the Warriors), they're where we want to be in a few years."
The split left Franklin at 5-2 overall. They began their new year in a hurry, taking on South Milwaukee in a nonconference game on Jan. 3 before traveling down to Kenosha Indian Trail for a 7:15 p.m. Southeast Conference game Friday, Jan. 6.
For Podoll, every game will be a learning experience, and what he said the Sabers came out of the tournament with was a need for improved offensive efficiency.
"We've been averaging something like 1.8 points a minute; we need to get back to that," he said.
Franklin was en route to that in the first half against Waunakee, as the teams exchanged the lead seven times before the Warriors took a 31-30 advantage at the break. The Sabers got a lot of mileage out of senior guard Marcus Lee, who hit four 3-pointers en route to 14 points in the session.
The second half opened in a promising fashion, as back-to-back treys from Lee and Vonderwell pulled Franklin to within 39-38 with 14:25 left, but those would be the last points for Franklin for over 10 minutes. Waunakee, though not tremendously tall but physically strong and very active, completely stymied the Sabers, forcing them almost entirely out of the paint. Meanwhile, the Warriors' motion offense became very efficient, as a couple of 3s, some put-backs and activity in the post added up to a 16-0 run that made it 55-38 with 5:10 left.
It wasn't until a little-too-little-a little-too-late baseline jumper from senior guard Brett Grulkowski with 3:54 left that the Sabers broke the drought.
The lead never dropped below 14 points the rest of the way.
"Their press didn't bother us so much," Podoll said. "We had some looks, but they didn't go down, while they had looks that they made. That got them a little motivated and infused them with a quite a bit of energy and we weren't able to close down well enough defensively."
Lee finished with 17 points to lead the Sabers, while Vonderwell had 9 and Max Alba 8.
The semifinal against Central was quite a bit more dramatic, as Podoll said there were so many changes in momentum that the game became a blur.
Franklin took a 33-30 lead at the half, and the score was tied at 58-58 at the end of regulation. The Sabers had the ball with the score tied very late in the OT. The ball was inbounded to Vonderwell on the right side, and he wasn't challenged until he got well into the lane when he launched a high floater that bounced off the glass and in with just 0.9 of a second left.
It capped off a solid game for Vonderwell as he finished with 10 points, six assists and three steals. Lee again led the team with 17 points and five assists, while senior guard Faisal Obeidat had 13 and Alba 9.
In the physical game, Franklin hit 18-of-28 free throws and Central 22-of-34.