After last season's disappointing close and with all-state guard Harrison Cleary heading off to Minnesota-Crookston, Oak Creek Now All-Suburban forward Drew Yetka knew that he and the rest of his large senior class had to take it up a notch if the Knights were to succeed this winter.
He and coach Mike Jossie had a meeting about goals. One was clear right from the outset.
"I promised him I would get him a net and a number (on the banner in the gymnasium)," said Yetka.
Those two items are the traditional rewards for conference title winning teams.
The motivated, 6-6 Yetka knew just how to get them too.
"I took a day off after we lost and then I got right back into the gym," her said. "I didn't want anything to fall off because I knew with the group we had coming back that we could something really special."
He and the Knights did just that, turning in a school-best 21-3 record, as Yetka filled in Cleary's role and then some, becoming their leading scorer and rebounder and all-around defensive stopper under the basket.
The mobile, strong and fluid first-team All-Southeast Conference and honorable mention all-state choice, scored 19.9 points game on 55 percent shooting from the floor.
No one wanted to foul him because he also hit 89 percent of his free throws (94-106) and was a tremendous 3-point shooter (63 hits for 53 percent). He led the team in rebounding with 194 (8.1 per game) and added 53 assists, 27 blocked shots and 50 steals. He had nine double/doubles on the season and is slated to go to NCAA Division II Bemidji State (Minnesota).
Jossie said the three-year, letter-winning Yetka, whose initial big moment came two years ago when he took a three-quarters court pass from Cleary and hit a lay-up to beat rival Franklin at the buzzer, made just enormous progress this season.
"Words fail to describe the appreciation I have for how far he has come in terms of being a player, student and leader," said coach Mike Jossie. "People were nervous about who would step in (to fill Cleary's shoes) and he did it and then some."
Hard work pays off
Yetka said the only way he was able to achieve those goals was through hard work.
He spent most of his off-season in a gym working on all aspects of his game. He was grateful to South Milwaukee High School which he said had the only gym that was open every day this past summer. He said the meeting with Jossie was key to making the summer productive.
"We just made sure that I understand what my goals were to be," he said. "Making sure I had a good plan. We (the team) had workouts four mornings a week, and then I would meet with a trainer twice a week to make sure my conditioning was in place."
It was the same trainer that Cleary, who just finished a monster freshman season with Crookston (over 20 points a game).
Cleary worked out with Yetka last summer too and that paid huge dividends, said Yetka.
"I realized that if for just one year I could be half as good as Harrison was for his whole career, that things would work out," said Yetka.
They did, as Yetka became the man for the Knights this winter.
"I always liked putting the ball in the basket and the other guys were great with that," he said. "We went into the season thinking we had a good chance of doing something special, but we had to see how it work out. In a situation like that sometimes a fear factor takes over some guys, but we knew that we could compete and what we had improved on."
Setting the tone early
An early season win over defending Southeast champ Racine Park was key, said Yetka
"They were predicted to win conference and if we could beat them that would be a real good indicator for us," said Yetka.
The mentally tough Knights really took off in the new year. They lost to Southeast rival Racine Horlick, 50-48, on Jan. 6 and then won 14 games in a row, including a serendipitous case of deja vu, as on Jan. 27, he again hit a buzzer beating lay-up to edge Franklin. As it was two years ago, it was in the Franklin gym and in the same basket.
Then in the rematch with Horlick, the Knights stuffed the Rebels, holding them to nine points in the first half en route to a 19-point rout.
"We knew with those two games that we could have a chance against anybody," said Yetka.
Yetka's promise to Jossie came true on a Feb. 20 make-up game win against Kenosha Tremper as the Knights clinched the Southeast title.
Parents of the team had pre-ordered special T-shirts and then everyone on the team got a tiny snip of the net with Jossie getting the final cut and the biggest piece.
"He keeps that net in his basketball bag," laughed Yetka.
The regional final loss to Franklin in the teams' third meeting of the year still stings, but Yetka leaves knowing major goals have been accomplished.
He's just surprised it all went by so fast.
"I always knew it would," he said. "We'd go to school, we'd go to practice and I always thought 'I couldn't take this for granted because this is the best time in my life.' That game (where he hit the winning shot) against Franklin, still has me in awe."
Now he's ready for the next step.
"Bemidji (State) was one of the first schools to reach out to me when I started playing well," he said. "I took a chance right after the season and made a visit. I met with the coaches and players and I knew it was someplace that I wanted to go."
He will major in biology with the idea of going into pre-med.
The fun thing about his choice is that he will get to play against his old mentor Cleary on a regular basis as they are in the same conference.
"I'm walking out of here pretty happy," Yetka said.