GREEN BAY – 2001.
That’s the last year on the Green Bay Southwest boys basketball team’s conference championship banner in the gym.
“How often can my players get in the gym?”
That was the first question John Polkowski asked a school committee when interviewing to be the Green Bay Southwest boys basketball coach nearly four years ago.
“I think that was something that stood out to all of us there,” said former Southwest standout Aaron Moesch, who was a part of the hiring committee. “He really wanted to instill that work ethic in his players.
“Some (coaching candidates) asked about the X’s and O’s and what they could run here or about the logistics of everything. But with him, it was more about the kids.”
Polkowski has been working on building a solid foundation for the program since being hired as Southwest’s coach.
The only thing that has kept his players out of the gym this season was a water main break near the school that forced the team to play a scheduled home game on Dec. 13 at Green Bay Notre Dame instead.
Things have been flowing rather smoothly on the court during the Trojans’ 5-2 start to the season despite being a rather young team, which has only one senior and featured at times four sophomores in the starting lineup.
“We know we are young,” Polkowski said. “But I don’t see this season being a building block for next year. I hope that they envision it that we’re playing for this year.”
Southwest has garnered impressive nonconference wins over the likes of Seymour and West De Pere thus far.
The Trojans showed they are ready to make the jump to the next level of the Fox River Classic Conference standings when they pushed traditional power De Pere to the limit in a 75-73 double overtime loss on Dec. 9.
“I think that boosted our confidence,” Southwest junior forward Cole Bouche said. “We realized we can be one of the top teams in this conference if we just work hard. We can have a brighter future.”
The Trojans have produced only three winning records in conference play since winning the Fox River Valley Conference title in 2001.
Southwest tied for second in 2002 and tied for fourth in the FRCC in 2009. Its last winning record came by way of a sixth-place FRCC finish in 2013, which was Moesch’s senior season.
Moesch, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, helps coach the current Southwest players during summer league games. He feels the potential is there for the team to be a legitimate contender in the FRCC.
“The kids are really willing to get in the gym and be better,” Moesch said. “I think that obviously has something to do with the youth program because when we were in high school we could already see the youth program being built up.”
Southwest’s current sophomore class enjoyed plenty of success at the youth level.
The Trojans are hoping to be able to translate that to the varsity level.
“I’ve been thinking about that for a while,” Southwest sophomore Will Pytleski said about ending the team’s conference title drought.
It hasn’t taken Pytleski long to establish himself as one of the better players in the FRCC. The 6-foot-3 guard/forward is averaging 23.3 points per game this season.
“He does play a good inside-out game,” Polkowski said. “He gives other teams a very good mismatch. How would you guard Will with other pieces on the floor? He’s a guy that can attack you either way. It definitely plays into his benefit because guys can score around him, too.”
Bouche (13.4 ppg) and sophomore point guard Jason Simmons (13.3 ppg) are also averaging double-digit points. Lucas Stieber and Carson Landry have also cracked the starting lineup as sophomores.
“We love the fast break,” said Bouche, who scored a game-high 33 points Wednesday in a victory over Green Bay East. “We get most of our points off the fast break and are always looking at the guards.”
The Trojans’ unselfish play trickles down from Marcus Rauschenbach, the team’s lone senior. Rauschenbach, a starting lineman on the football team, decided to come out for basketball again this season although he knew his minutes in games would probably be limited.
Rauschenbach was greeted by an array of cheers from the Southwest student section Thursday after checking into the game late and promptly collecting a steal in the lane on his first defensive possession against Green Bay West.
“We don’t have much size on the team, so it’s really nice to have him in practice to help us prep for bigger teams,” Bouche said.
Southwest is hoping to do bigger things down the stretch this season.
“I definitely do feel more comfortable than Day One since I got here,” said Polkowski, a Goodman native, who played college basketball at UW-Oshkosh. “The program is in better shape. We have some goals for ourselves and are going to keep moving forward and see how far we can go with this team.”