This was a rare and surprising year for veteran Nicolet boys basketball coach Paul Hepp.
Not for how frustrating the 3-20 season was for his painfully young squad. And it was tough; trust him, he'll tell you about it.
No, the real surprise for him was how well this callow squad reacted to such adversity and how strong they finished despite the harrowing results.
"It's pretty simple," Hepp said. "Everyone wants to win and, as we all know, it's a lot easier on your character when you win, but you find out what your real character is like when you don't win, when you don't have as much success."
"It's a lot tougher to get through that kind of situation when you're a 15,16-year-old kid. I was very proud of their attitude and their character. Even at the end of the year (with an 11-game losing streak at their backs), we still had hard and very active practices. It just showed that wins or losses didn't have an affect on how they acted."
The Knights finished their campaign with a competitive 81-64 WIAA regional loss to eventual sectional finalist Port Washington.
As usual in that game, senior guard Greg Pigg played his guts out, hitting 6 three-pointers and scoring 33 points.
Pigg, who finished his career with 1,001 career points, was the only player with any real varsity experience returning to the Knights this winter after Jerry Luckett transferred to Brown Deer. He finished the year averaging 20.5 points per game with games of 38, 36 and 33 points; 56 three-pointers including seven in one game, led the team with 3.1 assists a game, 2.2 steals, and was not only named the team MVP, but was also named its top defensive performer too.
The Knights were 0-14 in North Shore Conference play and, despite that, Pigg still earned the distinction of being named a first-team all-conference selection.
"It's not often a last place team gets a first-team all-conference selection," said Hepp, "but as much as any person on the team, Greg had a great growing year. Here he was thrust into a leadership position. In a situation like that, a kid usually has some help around him, but Greg was it. There was no one else around him.
"Greg played up this season. He was always good, but the way he stepped up this season was admirable. He looked at the big picture. He found things to work with."
Pigg was also named to the WBCA All-Star team this summer.
Around him this winter was a team that included five players who weren't even in the basketball program last season for various reasons.
"So going in, we knew we couldn't focus on wins and losses," said Hepp. "We had to focus on bigger things like answering the questions 'Did you grow as a player this season?' 'Did we improve as a team?' We were really looking for the future."
Wins were recorded over Kenosha Bradford, Milwaukee Career and Technical, and Hartford. The team had two-point losses in North Shore Conference play to Cedarburg and Milwaukee Lutheran, as well as to non-conference foe Bay View.
The junior varsity team had some issues at mid-season but played well at the end of the season, said Hepp, and the freshmen team, without a true point guard because players moved up to the junior varsity, also played hard.
Seniors on the team included Pigg, Cameran Patterson, William Burrows, and Mike Nichols.
"I think we'll be a deeper team over the next couple of years," said Hepp. "More kids will get opportunities."
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