Josh Skatrud understands his team is the black sheep this week.
His Elkhorn team isn’t fueled by players being recruited to play Division I college basketball. And nobody on his roster has any experience playing at the Kohl Center in Madison.
All three of the other Division 2 teams in the WIAA state tournament field this week have players that can lay claim to both of those things.
“Obviously we’re the team that probably doesn’t seem like we fit with the other ones in Division 2,” Skatrud acknowledged Sunday night on a statewide media teleconference heading into state tournament week. “We don’t have a Jalen Johnson or the Davis brothers or a Foster like (Milwaukee) Washington has.
“I don’t know if misfit is the right word, but we’re definitely a different type of team.”
It was no surprise when Elkhorn (23-3) was given the No. 4 seed earlier Sunday when the state bracket was seeded.
The Elks will face top-seeded Glendale Nicolet (25-1) in the first D2 state semifinal at 1:35 p.m. Friday in Madison. Second-seeded Milwaukee Washington (21-5) plays third-seeded La Crosse Central (24-2) in the second semifinal, with the winners playing for the state championship Saturday night.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the three teams Elkhorn will be up against at the Kohl Center:
- Nicolet’s state drought (1993) was nearly as long as Elkhorn’s (1987). But the team is led by nationally-ranked junior standout Jalen Johnson, who led Sun Prairie to state in Division 1 a year ago, so there is state experience on the roster.
Johnson is widely considered one of the top juniors in the nation, and his list of final 15 schools he is considering includes the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, as well as Wisconsin and Marquette.
Junior forward Jamari Sibley, who averages 19 points to Johnson’s 20, has offers from more than a dozen Division I programs, as well.
Sophomore forward James Graham—also a transfer to Nicolet this season—has a couple DI offers, while sophomore point guard Kobe Johnson—Jalen’s younger brother—ranks among the top sophomores in the state.
- Milwaukee Washington is back at state for a third straight year and is looking to reach the title game for the second consecutive season.
Deontay Long is one of the top-ranked seniors in the state. He made headlines last year when he played at state but later last year served a six-month prison term for attempted armed robbery. Sophomore Michael Foster Jr. is one of the state’s top-rated sophomores and has scholarship offers from Kansas, UCLA, LSU and Marqette, among others. And Washington has added another DI player, freshman Tre White, since the turn of the calendar year after White and his family moved to Wisconsin from Texas.
- La Crosse Central is back at state for a fourth straight year. The Red Raiders won it all in 2017 with current University of Wisconsin player Kobe King leading the way.
The Badgers coaching staff again has its eyes on Central and its twin brothers, Jordan and Johnny Davis. Johnny leads the team in scoring at almost 23 points per game and already has an offer from Wisconsin, among other DI programs. Jordan averages 13 points and is getting looked at by the Badgers, as well, though WisSports.net lists his official offers thus far as coming from Green Bay and Milwaukee.
“It’s outstanding,” Central coach Todd Fergot said when asked to assess the D2 state field. “Obviously, Nicolet, with the talent they have, they’re one of the best teams in the nation in terms of national rankings. Milwaukee Washington, obviously, they’re very, very talented and had an addition here recently that really makes them even more difficult to play against.
“I think the Division 2 field … has been really strong the last few years. But it’s probably as strong as it’s been this year.”
By contrast to the others, Elkhorn features four players averaging in double figures, but none of them scores more than 12 points per game. The Elks haven’t been to the state tournament in 32 years. But they do have twin brothers of their own, Vince and Luke Umnus, who have committed to play Division III basketball at Wisconsin Lutheran.
“We’re definitely a different type of team,” Skatrud said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball really well. We’ve got really tough kids who are physical and compete. Just a little bit different look, I guess, than the other teams in the state tournament.”
Vince Umnus was still basking in the glory of winning a sectional final at Janesville Craig on Saturday night.
But when asked what he thought about the prospect of playing Nicolet, Umnus said he and his teammates have no intentions of backing down.
“I can tell you right now I’m not going to be scared of them,” he said. “They’re a really good ball club, obviously. … They’re tough. But we played Tyler Herro last year. It’ll be a great opportunity.”