Jalen Johnson is built for this.
The Nicolet junior forward just completed the most fulfilling season of his young basketball career. With his younger brother, Kobe, joining him in the starting lineup and fellow junior standout Jamari Sibley joining him in a starring role, Nicolet went 27-1 and won the school’s first state championship.
It was a season that will be remembered for not only the Knights’ dominance but also for the big-time following their team enjoyed and for the backlash the Johnson’s family received from some after the brothers transferred from Sun Prairie to Nicolet.
It was a test of mental toughness for one of the nation’s top prospects in the 2020 class.
“I proved to myself that I’m pretty good at handling pressure,” the 6-foot-9 forward said. “That is probably the main thing that I learned about myself.”
Under a spotlight few high school athletes experience, Johnson delivered in grand fashion. He averaged 19.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game for the Knights, a performance that earned him distinction as The Associated Press state player of the year.
“He’s a guy who puts his team first and he’s a guy who is willing to do anything it takes to win. He’s not all about scoring,” Nicolet coach Allan Hanson said. “His size allows him to rebound and his vision and understanding of the game of basketball allow him to make plays and to make passes that are very unusual for guys his size.”
Waupun senior Marcus Domask and La Crosse Central junior Johnny Davis were also nominated for the award that was voted on by a panel of sportswriters from around the state.
Johnson led the Knights in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Seven times he recorded triple doubles. He averaged 18 points, 15.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in two games at the state tournament, capping the season with 20 points, 20 rebounds and four assists in a 67-54 victory over Milwaukee Washington in the Division 2 state final.
The victory completed a season in which all but two of the team’s victories were decided by double digits.
“I’m just basically proud of my team,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of everything we accomplished this year.”
Coach of the year: Sun Prairie’s Jeff Boos
The Sun Prairie boys basketball team reached the WIAA Division 1 state tournament for the first time a year ago, but outside expectations were diminished for the Cardinals this season after a series of events changed their prospects.
But Sun Prairie coach Jeff Boos remained optimistic and his resilient team made a late-season surge and an improbable return trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament this season – advancing to the title game for the first time.
The Cardinals (21-7) did that despite heavy graduation losses; the transfers of 6-foot-9 junior Jalen Johnson, one of the nation’s top recruits, and his brother, sophomore guard Kobe Johnson, to Glendale Nicolet prior to this school year; and a season filled with injuries, player absences and an often-changing lineup that featured only one all-conference selection, Brock Voigt, among the top 15 players picked in the Big Eight Conference.
For his efforts, Boos, in his 24th year as Sun Prairie coach, was named The Associated Press boys basketball coach of the year by a vote of a statewide panel of sports reporters.
“I am honored, very honored,” Boos said of the first-time state coaching honor. “I think there were a lot of hands in the development of our team. Our staff has worked very hard and done a lot of quality coaching. … A lot of hours were put in. The kids believed in what we were doing and believed in the process. A lot of things went on during this year. We tried to do the things we believed would be good for the team. It was a matter of pulling together.”
Sun Prairie, which finished fourth in the Big Eight, edged West Allis Central 62-60 in overtime in a Division 1 semifinal before falling to top-seeded Brookfield Central 69-52 in the title game March 16 at the Kohl Center in Madison.