JC Butler, the all-time leading scorer in Racine County boys basketball history, has moved on to play for California-Irvine.
Troy Mikaelian is at Lawrence University.
Logan Krekling has taken his talents to St. Norbert.
Three other valuable seniors from The Prairie School boys basketball team last season have also moved on.
After going 58-18 the last three seasons with two Metro Classic Conference championships, it’s time for the Hawks to go back to basics with a cast of new players.
There isn’t anyone who approaches the all-around skills of Butler, who earned first-team Associated Press All-State honors in what was considered an especially vintage year of talent. There may not be someone who can shoot the lights out like Mikaelian, Prairie’s second all-time leading scorer.
But so far, the transition hasn’t been as drastic as one might have expected. After opening this season with a 92-67 victory over Random Lake, the Hawks gave a talented Case team a serious challenge before losing 78-73.
Coach Jason Atanasoff is molding a new team behind players who include 6-foot-2 senior guard Jack Polzin, 6-0 sophomore guard Isaiah Hoyt, 6-3 sophomore forward Antuan Nesbitt, 6-0 senior guard Quinton Stafford and 6-0 senior guard Konner Kamm.
And Atanasoff likes what he sees so far.
“The thing that sticks out about this group from the first day of practice is how hard they work and how coachable they are,” Atanasoff said. “They know all the thoughts and comments around the area that we’re expected to take a huge step back. But they’re going to keep working their tails off to try and prove people wrong.
“While we lost all those guys, we have some seniors who played in some big games last year. None of them played consistently or a ton of minutes, but they played when we got into foul trouble. But this sophomore class has the potential to be pretty darn good.”
Hoyt and Nesbitt are ranked among the top 50 sophomores in the state by wissports. Other sophomores include 5-9 guard Jacob Fallico, a strong shooter, Kody Krekling, a 6-3 forward who is the brother of former Prairie starndouts Mitchel and Logan, 5-7 point guard K.J. Williams, whose father, Kelly, was a former standout for the Hawks, and 6-0 forward Riley Larson, whom Atanasoff said might be the best rebounder in the program.
Among the others who have made an impression on Atanasoff is 6-0 senior guard Christian Cape, 5-11 junior guard Liam Shannon.
“I think it will be a progression,” Atanasoff said. “I think we’ll have some highs and lows and I think the product you see in February will be a lot better than the one you see now as far as execution, especially on the defensive end.”
Speaking of defense, another big change is in store for the Hawks. After playing almost exclusively man-to-man defense the last three seasons, expect some different looks.
“We don’t have much size and we don’t have a lot of physical strength yet,” Atanasoff said. “So we’re going to have to get gimicky, switch up and play a lot of different defenses in games.
“We played man-to-man against Random Lake. Against Case, we were switching it up quite a bit.”
After such an encouraging performance against Case, there’s reason to believe the Hawks may be more competitive than expected.
“There’s a ton to build off of,” Atansasoff said. “We actually spent about an hour and 15 minutes the day after the Case game watching the game film because it was excellent teaching tape.
“We’re sticking with the hard nonconference approach so we can do the best we can come March.”