Oak Creek boys basketball coach Mike Jossie thinks the questions about his team's ability to survive without graduated all-state guard Harrison Cleary are being answered in a positive manner.
The Knights upped their record to 3-1 on the young season with a pair of defensive-minded victories last week, overpowering Milwaukee King, 50-33, on Nov. 29 and then opening their Southeast Conference schedule with a 57-33 victory over Kenosha Bradford on Dec. 2.
"You can tell that there is a real difference in these kids," Jossie said. "They are adapting to life without Harrison. I knew that over the summer. I watched them. They know how to play basketball."
Jossie drove up to see Cleary in Duluth, Minnesota on Dec. 3. Cleary plays for NCAA D2 Minnesota-Crookston,
The Knights will face a severe test Friday, Dec. 9, when they visit defending Southeast Conference champ Racine Park, which still has many pieces of the puzzle back from a team that went unbeaten in Southeast play last season.
Then on Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Knights will host archrival Franklin in a 5 p.m. lid-lifter of a boy-girl doubleheader. The Sabers, under second-year coach Tyler Podoll, are off to a 2-0 start their campaign.
Jossie has been very pleased with the work of senior co-captains Drew Yekta, Joey Zietlow and Jakup Sinani.
"They're all captains for different reasons," said Jossie. "They and the other kids come back every day and work hard. They know we have to play to our strengths."
Which are defense and a strong, ball-control offense. Against Bradford, the Knights stifled the Red Devils all night, taking a 29-17 lead at the half and then steadily pulling away from there.
Zietlow and Bobby Smith led the way with 12 points apiece, while Yetka had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Jossie said Yetka may have improved more between seasons than any other player he has seen.
"He has really stepped up," Jossie said.
That much was very evident against King. The Generals are a former state power that has undergone two coaching changes in the last year, and the 6-6 Yetka dominated them to the tune of 31 points and 12 rebounds, including four 3-pointers. Sinani helped out with eight points.
Jossie is encouraged by the start but knows there is a lot of work still to do.
He said senior Matt Kasar has stepped into Cleary's point guard role well, with help from other players.
"We can do the things we're supposed to do because I watched them all summer long," Jossie said. "These kids just play very well together. I believe they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. We have a lot of starters back from last year and also some guys who helped off the bench, so we think we can win."
Jossie said the trip to Wisconsin Dells the previous weekend, where the Knights beat Wisconsin Rapids and lost to powerful Middleton, was "the best thing we could have done for ourselves," he said. "We didn't have the best prospects going in, but we needed to see talent like Middleton to see how far we still have to go."