by robb luehr
Dick Vitale would probably call Hans Weitkuhn a "pine-time player."
But even Vitale, the well-known basketball announcer, would have to say Weitkuhn becomes "prime time" when he does step into a game.
Weitkuhn, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound
senior guard, is the 12th man on the
12-man Racine Lutheran boys' basketball team and therefore sits on the bench most of the time.
However, he is as popular with
Crusader fans as the Bulls' Michael Jordan is in Chicago Stadium.
Coaches, teammates and fans alike attest to his popularity.
When he goes into a game, "the whole crowd stands up and cheers," said Amy Peters, a member of the Lutheran girls' basketball team.
"The gym is electric when he gets in the game," said Lutheran Assistant Coach Tim Naegeli.
Hans Weitkuhn Mr. Inspirational Jeff Peterson, a Lutheran graduate and Weitkuhn's teammate last year, said "after we're winning by a lot of points, the crowd keeps going "Hans! Hans!' just trying to get him in.
everyone (on the team) excited to play and he gets the crowd going, too," said current teammate Chad Baganz.
"He's our cheerleader on the bench," said Bob Hagen, another teammate. "He fires the team up.
"He might not be the (most talented) guy on the team, but he works the hardest - he helps everyone else play to their best."
"He's the ultimate team player," said Jeff Christensen, the Crusaders' head coach. "In practice, he hustles all the time and has improved tremendously."
Weitkuhn played for the first time in high school last year. Prior to that, he said he concentrated on his studies.
During the summer before his junior year, he began running and conditioning to ready himself for a shot at the team. "I had to get in shape - I have horrible stamina," Weitkuhn said.
His main role on the team, by his own admission, is as a cheerleader. "When I'm on the bench, I'm out there cheering the team on. If I don't play, fine - my main objective is to win games."
When he does get a chance to play, he would rather help his teammates score than shoot himself. "I like to play smart," Weitkuhn said. "I like to pass the ball underneath the basket so somebody can get a good shot instead of taking a 20-footer."
A situation where shooting won out over passing was in Lutheran's 101-54 victory over Union Grove Nov. 27.
With about 30 seconds left in the game, Weitkuhn's first-ever three-point basket gave the Crusaders their final point total.
"When I put (the shot) up there, I was hoping it would go in," he said. "After it went in, everybody was going berserk, my heart was going berserk - it was a great feeling to go over 100 points. A lot of high school teams don't do that."
He scored six points in that game - equal to his total last season - and has seven for this year. However, he prides himself on his defense.
"I love playing defense," he said. "Defense wins basketball games and championships; that's what the coaches have stressed in the two years I've been here."
Naegeli, the former Lutheran and
UW-Stevens Point standout, is very impressed with Weitkuhn.
"He's a real motivator to his teammates and to the crowd, but more than anything, he's a good basketball player," Naegeli said. "He gets the most out of himself.
"If every kid on the basketball team for every high school could have the intensity and emotion Hans Weitkuhn has, every team would be much better than they are."