You could hear a pin drop at Tremper on Tuesday night.
After more than a week of practice, the Bradford and Tremper boys basketball teams finally got to compete following the Kenosha Unified School District’s approval to resume winter athletics for practices beginning Jan. 4 and for games beginning this week.
The Trojans won, 64-53, in a gym devoid of spectators, but at least a game was finally played.
“I’m excited about it,” KUSD Athletic Director Bryan Mogensen said. “It’s nice to see the kids out playing. I think they’ve been champing at the bit to get out and get something positive going. I just want to see kids smiling and happy and take their minds off all the negative going on right now.
“I can’t commend our ADs and coaches enough. It’s been endless meetings and countless emails and never-ending updates.”
Brandon Morris made his head coaching debut with the Trojans after two seasons as the head man at St. Joseph, and he witnessed a balanced attack.
Senior Trey Cardona led Tremper 19 points, sophomore Will Starks scored 17 and senior Jake Korbakes added 11, as the Trojans pounded the Red Devils inside and converted on 20 of 29 free throws.
Tremper led by as many as 20 points before taking a 34-23 halftime lead. The Trojans then stormed out of the locker room for the second half with a 6-0 run to go up 40-23 and cruised the rest of the second half.
Junior point guard Jalen Carlino led all scorers with 26 points for Bradford, including three 3-pointers, and the Red Devils showed some life with 5 minutes to play. But Tremper knocked down two free throws with 3 minutes left to build a 55-45 lead, and the game was never close the rest of the way.
Morris acknowledged that all of the uncertainty has been a challenge, but he felt good about the victory.
“Coming off the suspension of play, and we literally came back after the break last Monday, had a few practices and you already have a game with your crosstown rival,” Morris said.
“The hardest challenge has been not enough person-to-person contact. Not being able to speak with the parents, come in the building and interact … we did FaceTime, Zoom calls, but it’s not the same. Relationships are important, and I value that. Especially with these young men and their families.
“Tonight’s big lead had a little to do with luck. Our big fella, (junior) Torin Byrnes, did a great job down low. They just did an all-around good job as a team, and that’s what we’re most proud of.”
Carlino, meanwhile, finished 10 of 18 from the field for Bradford and added four rebounds and four assists, while senior Tre’Vion Gordon totaled 10 points and seven rebounds for the Red Devils.
‘Lot of uncertainty’
Bradford head coach Greg Leech, who once had Morris on his staff, was simply happy to see his guys take the court again.
“There’s been a lot of uncertainty. We started in November with three practices, then they shut it down,” Leech said.
“We tried to keep them involved with virtual stuff. We practiced knowing they would shut things down. We tried to keep them involved by sending them offense and defense schemes. We have two kids that have varsity experience.
“It has been a heck of a roller-coaster ride. They’re happy to be playing. A lot of the state has been playing. We have tried to be positive and tell them we’ll get the same opportunity as every other team. They wanted some kind of basketball.”
In terms of Tuesday night, Leech said the the Red Devils didn’t give the effort necessary to win, as they got in early foul trouble.
“We were out of position, so we were making fouls,” Leech added. “Our margin of error is small, so we can’t have a game where a team outplays us for 33 minutes.”
For Morris, this season is about just playing, and the Trojans haven’t forgotten what happened 10 months ago.
Tremper embarked on a furious comeback to beat Franklin in the WIAA Division-1 regional finals then defeated West Allis Central in overtime in the sectional semifinals to reach the sectional finals for the first time since 2006.
But before the Trojans could play for their first State Tournament berth since 2001, the season was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s now been 20 years since Tremper and St. Joseph, led by Morris as a player that year, both advanced to state in 2001.
“The goal this season is just staying together through thick and thin,” Morris said. “We’re focused on being positive and making the most of what we have.”
Helping the community
Mogensen, meanwhile, believes the truncated regular season — which finishes on Feb. 13 and will allow Bradford, Tremper and Indian Trail to play in the postseason — is exactly what the community needs right now as it deals with the pandemic, in addition to social and political tension.
“I just want to see these kids have something positive in their lives,” Mogensen said. “They’ve missed a lot, and it’s a chance to get back a little ‘normal.’ With sports, it gives us, ‘Hey, we’re all one community.’ There’s no other mechanism that approaches that better than team sports.
“If anything, I’m hoping this gives us an opportunity to embrace some of those differences and start looking into one another’s lives. Let’s embrace each other. If we can move forward with sports and have some of those conversations, it’s a good thing.”