By Steve Haywood Special to Published Nov 10, 2007 at 7:00 PM

Well, it's that time of the year although we are in Packers bliss; basketball season is about to begin in full bluster.

I just thought I would take this time to remind all those hoop fans how good we've got it around here at all levels of the game in the state of Wisconsin.

It starts on the preps level and lets face it; the best conference in the state is the City Conference in Milwaukee. You want to argue that point, what are you going to stand on? Here is what I will stand on: Milwaukee Vincent, King, Washington, Bradley Tech and Bay View, they are just the top of the conference year in and year out, even the bottom feeders in the city usually do well against teams outside of the conference.

I'm a bit biased since we at Milwaukee's ESPN Radio do the City Conference basketball games, but all you've got to do is count the gold and silver basketballs (state championship and runner-up trophies) that sit in the cases at most of these city schools since the early 80's, and it validates my argument. Now, since the incorporation of the private schools having to play against those city schools to get to Madison, it is truly an unbelievable accomplishment to make out of this region in basketball. The Racine area has been lights out the last 10 years, and the improvement of the North Shore, western suburbs, Madison area and the Fox Valley have made boys high school basketball the most competitive sport within the WIAA.

Moving on to the college ranks, it is just a natural progression that we have seen improvement on this level locally and great success nationally. Tom Crean takes a Marquette team with a couple of Wisconsin kids and a lot of expectations into one of the toughest conferences in the country in the Big East. I hope people don't forget that Final Four team was a team with Dwyane Wade, but mainly a bunch of Wisconsin kids; Diener, Novak, Jackson, Merritt and Terry Sanders, all Wisconsin kids that a few years earlier would have been perceived not good enough for Division 1 scholarships or playing at out of state schools. Bo Ryan takes a group of Badgers into the Big Ten season with not a lot of expectations, but promise and with ten players with Wisconsin state ties. Expect the old UW-Platteville coach to win his share of ballgames.

The Horizon League features UW-Green Bay and head coach Tod Kowalczyk, which has a team favored to win the conference. His team is full of state players, including three from the Milwaukee area who will probably start. UW-Milwaukee has a team assembled by Rob Jeter that looks like a Milwaukee All-Star team with a few kids from Chicago thrown in. The bottom line is this: all of these teams will be fun to watch, win games and most importantly play each other now that UW-Milwaukee and Marquette will renew their game this year after years of not playing each other.

I don't have enough blog space to talk about the great basketball being played at the state colleges in the WIAC, and the great Division II teams in the state. Bottom line: the state of Wisconsin has great players, coaches, teams and conferences. Don't take that for granted, its something that has been a long time coming. Guys like Devin Harris, Travis Diener, Steve Novak, Mike Wilks, Carl Landry and Caron Butler are products of this state that have made it to the next level (NBA) because of the level of competition on the ground floor in high school and college.

Enjoy it.



Steve Haywood Special to

Steve Haywood is the host of “That Being Said,” which airs weeknights at 6 p.m. on Milwaukee’s ESPN Radio 1510 Days / 1290 Nights. A lifelong Milwaukee resident, Steve has been working on the radio since 1996 and also is executive producer of Sports Perspectives on MATA Community Media.

After graduating from Milwaukee Tech High School in 1985, Haywood attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he graduated in 1991.

He has covered a number of major events, including the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2002 and the NBA All-Star Game in 2003.

Haywood, 39, is married with two kids, a dumb cat and a dog described as a “real curmudgeon.”