By JR Radcliffe   Published Mar 16, 2006 at 5:10 AM

The roster reads like a Wisconsin state all-star game.

Three of Milwaukee Rufus King's starters on its state tournament-bound boys basketball team are headed for Division 1 programs, including guard Troy Cotton (UW-Green Bay), Leneal Harris (UW-Milwaukee) and 7-foot-0 center Mitchell Carter (South Carolina).

So what King head coach Jim Gosz said was downright scary when the WIAA held its annual conference call for coaches headed to the year-end event, to be held at the Kohl Center in Madison beginning Thursday.

"What's nice, you have a kid like (James) Pruitt who started the last two state championships (in 2003 and 2004) and a sophomore (Korie Lucious) who's highly touted and they're still on the bench and the game hasn't started yet," Gosz said. "You get a six or seven point lead and you can bring in probably two of your best players, things are looking good. We like to think our best players come off the bench because we don't think anything's going to happen the first couple minutes. We don't really buy into who start. It's who finishes the game."

Lucious, considered among the top sophomores in the nation by several prep publications, will join sophomore teammate Bryan Brown as Division 1 recruits in the coming years. Throw in the seniors, and the entire package is staggering for the seven other Division 1 teams hoping for a state crown.

"If I was working for a (news)paper, I'd put us up there too just looking at us on paper with all these Division 1 signees," Gosz said. "We understand it's not going to be easy, but looking at the resumes on some of these kids, I'd have to go with you guys as well (in seeing King as the favorites)."

The City Conference champions are 19-3 this year, with a loss tally matched or improved upon by five other teams in the D-1 field. Yet none of those losses have come against schools in the state, and King is still the prohibitive favorite to claim their third state title in four years.

The team will meet undefeated Ashwaubenon (24-0) at 1:35 p.m. today, facing a Bay Conference entrant that boasts an all-state caliber player of its own in senior Adam Koch, who averages 19.4 points per game and will play next season for one of the nation's rising mid-major programs at Northern Iowa.

The Jaguars' faithful have had plenty to cheer about in the 2005-06 school year. Five members of the state champion football team also play basketball, and many fans will be making consecutive weekend trips to Madison after witnessing the girls basketball team claim the Division 1 state title last weekend.

"A number of people have talked about the pressure on this team during the season and we have truly enjoyed the motto of living by the day and never talked bout our record or where we're rated in the state," Ashwaubenon coach Jeff VandeLoo said. "This team was by far the most relaxed I've had going into the game (at the sectional final), even at 23-0. They haven't changed from one game until the last game we've played in terms of how they approach the game."

Of course, they haven't faced a team like King, either.

"They have a ton of talent and athleticism and they're the favorite to win the state tournament," VandeLoo said. "We'll be up for the challenge. I don't know what we're going to do it terms of game planning ... but I know our guys will play incredibly hard."

Other Division 1 games

Game 2: Madison Memorial (22-1) vs. Brookfield Central (20-3), 20 minutes after game one.

Outside of a hiccup against Oconomowoc early in the season, Brookfield Central coach Mark Adams said he's seen his Lancers show impressive consistency throughout the season, with their only other two losses coming in the final moments against Greater Metro Conference powerhouse Wauwatosa East.

"In the tournament we've gotten better defensively ... in our first two playoff games, our defense basically won it for us," Adams said, referencing a pair of games that includes a double overtime victory over Muskego. "All three games have been down to the wire and we handled adversity well in all three games. The kids have a lot of heart and they're really competitive."

The team will have its hands full against the reigning Division 1 state champions, a team led by all-state caliber junior Keaton Nankivil (16.0 points per game 8.4 rebounds per game), a 6-foot-7 post. Meanwhile, Central's weapon of choice is 5-foot-10 senior guard Scott Bagguley (19.4 ppg), one of the school's top five career scorers and No. 1 on the school's all-time assists chart, re-writing a mark that had stood for 13 years.

Adams also identified senior David Kersey, who scores 15.5 points per game and stands as the team's second leading scorers, as one of the best defenders the program has produced.

Game 3: Menomonie (16-8) vs. Arrowhead (15-9), 6:35 p.m.

Arrowhead junior Charlie Chapman missed 18 games during the season following an athletic code violation, but his return has sparked the Warhawks to the state tournament in the game that many high school fans assumed would feature Milwaukee Vincent, a surprising sectional semi-final casualty at the hands of Homestead.

"Obviously Charlie is a very good player, and our seniors have really accepted him," Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said. "When he came back, he did give us an added scoring punch, but what gives us defensive pressure-wise makes our kids a little more confident. Our kids have accepted him and it's a tribute to our seniors that haven't let his distractions become the team's distractions. They've done a nice job implementing him back in the lineup."

Scoring 17.2 points per game, senior guard John Hoch has been at the forefront of that operation, helping Arrowhead to their second ever state bid and first since 1992. Menomonie's Cole Kraft leads his team, in its first state berth since 1986, with just two-tenths of a point more per contest and 8.2 rebounds per game.

"We're not big and we're not super quick but our kids are very disciplined across the board," Menomonie coach Jay Stanley said.

Game 4: Oshkosh West (23-0) vs. Verona (21-2), 20 minutes after game 3.

Loyola of Chicago recruit Andy Polka made just one 3-pointer this season, but most close followers of Wisconsin basketball could tell you when it happened. The Wildcats nipped Kaukauna on Jan. 11, 38-35, thanks to Polka's three-quarter-court basket at the buzzer to keep West's undefeated season intact.

The 6-foot-6 forward has earned his 14.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in a more traditional manner inside the paint, leading his team in blocks and assists in the meanwhile.

"He's had a very good high school career by all measures and I know he was motivated by getting us down to Madison," coach Lance Randall said. "The Fox Valley has really enjoyed watching these guys the last year or two ... they're a fun group to watch."

West's first round opponent, Verona, gets 7.3 points per game or more from six members of its roster and will make its first appearance in the state's final eight.

Semifinals -- Friday, March 17
Game 5: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 -- 6:35 p.m.
Game 6: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4 -- approx. 20 min. following Game 5.
Championship Game, 25 minutes after Division 3 championship, Saturday.

The greater Milwaukee area is represented by one team each in each of the other three divisions. Division 2 entrant Delafield St. John's features high-flying Wisconsin recruit Trevon Hughes, undefeated Racine St. Catherine could be the favorite in a Division 3 field that has just one loss between four teams and Burlington Catholic Central enters the D-4 final four after ousting four-time defending state champs Randolph in the sectional final.

Division 2: St. John's NW Military Academy (24-1) vs. Seymour (21-3), 20 minutes after completion of 1:35 p.m. game, Friday.

You have to admire the consistency of the Seymour program.

In a circumstance where one badly-timed loss can bump you from the tournament field, the Thunder have still made appearances in seven straight WIAA state tournaments, reaching the final in every single campaign thus far. The only problem: they've played bridesmaid in five of their previous six title chances, winning it all just once in 2001.

"We've been very fortunate enough and we've put together a run that's really amazing," coach Jon Murphy said. "I don't know if there's any rhyme or reason to it. We just pride ourselves on playing good basketball and working hard and we've gotten a tradition that has fostered more success, and it just keeps rolling. To make it seven times is something beyond our wildest dreams."

This year's crew returns four starters from last year's runner-up, including talented junior Matt Hackl (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and senior Dan Genke (14.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg), but they still have their hands full with Hughes, one of the premier players in the state and a Mr. Basketball candidate.

"We've seen him several times on tape and he's a special kid," Murphy said. "Mark Miller (of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook) wrote he's one of the top guards to ever come out of the state of Wisconsin, and he may be right."

Hughes (22.6 ppg, 7.3 assists per game) is the centerpiece of Bo Ryan's University of Wisconsin recruiting class next year after the Queens, N.Y. native decided to stay close to his high school haunts. Only one of the five starters for the Lancers hails from the state of Wisconsin, with most students at the academy coming from all over the country and world.

"We're a very unique place because our academy recruits 300 kids every year ... we have kids from Hong Kong to China to Korea to Mexico to the United States," coach Brian Richert said. "We have a lot of history behind our academy. (Apollo 13 astronaut) Captain (Jim) Lovell's son went to the academy."

Insert witty reference here about another current student being "out of this world."

"We knew if Trevon played his normal game and got everyone else involved, success was going to happen," Richert said. "I tried to keep him level headed and focused, and I think he did an outstanding job of keeping the pressure at a very minimum and play the game that he dearly loves."

Other semi-final: Altoona (23-2) vs. Monona Grove (19-6), 1:35 p.m. Friday.
Championship game, 25 minutes after Division 4 game, Saturday.

Division 3: Racine St. Catherine (25-0) vs. Roncalli (25-0), 20 minutes following 9:05 a.m. game, Thursday.

Recording only one loss last year (to the eventual Division 3 champs Whitefish Bay Dominican, no less) and thereafter storming to the Division 2 state title, St. Catherine would have been a favorite to repeat the feat.

Imagine the expectations (and the sadness of the state's D3 schools) when the Angels were dropped down a division.

"Everyone in the state was talking about how that happened; people know they were going to be one of the favorites in the division," Roncalli coach Joe Rux said. "It didn't really change our kids' goals. They knew they would have to play exceptional ball to get to state and once you're there, everyone's going to play well."

"We'd like to be defending our title (at Division 2) but we do whatever the state tells us to and we'll play whenever they want us to play," St. Cat's head coach Bob Letsch said.

With seniors Devron Bostick (16.8 ppg), Reggie Bunch (12.7 ppg), Jamie DeMatthew (8.4 ppg) and junior James Haarsma (12.0) each playing key roles on last year's squad, finding a weakness will be hard to come by. Still, the team must earn a repeat crown by scratching through a field that has just one loss between four teams.

"We scouted (Roncalli) a couple times," Letsch said. "Their outside shooting (concerns me). My scout tonight said, 'get ready for the threes.' I think two of them have made more threes than all of my kids."

The Jets, which fell in overtime of the state semi-finals last year, have hit 198 three-pointers this season, including 64 from leading scorer Greg Schrimpf (20.6 ppg) and 75 by Alex Ahola (13.5 ppg). By comparison, St. Cat's has just 91 threes as a team this season.

"Last year people kind of pegged us as a 'live by the three, die by the three' type of team," Rux said. "The difference between this year and last year is we can get to the rim. We still have a lot of threes and that's a big part of the game but we're a lot more physical. Defensively, we've done a good job of limiting teams to one shot and boxing out."

Other semi-final: Westby (24-1) vs. Glenwood City (25-0), 9:05 a.m., Thursday
Championship game, 6:35 p.m., Saturday.

Division 4: Burlington Catholic Central (24-1) vs. Oshkosh Lourdes (13-12), 20 minutes following 9:05 a.m. game, Friday.

After a 9-11 regular season last year, Oshkosh Lourdes proved getting hot late in the season could get any team to the state tournament. With an 8-12 regular season this year and a return trip to Madison, they showed it could be a habit.

The Knights, playing in a conference that features teams with exclusively higher division standing, will eye a return trip to the state championship game behind senior Rob Patek (15.7 ppg).

"It's nice to know you have the light at the end of the tunnel; it's always in the back of their mind that we'd have a chance to start over and make a run to Madison," coach Dennis Ruedinger said. "Some of the teams we've had at Oshkosh Lourdes before the last two years, I don't know if they necessarily got the credit they deserved for how good a team they actually were. I really think it's a positive being in the league we're in -- we see height, strength, quickness and very good guard play."

Catholic Central will play Goliath, featuring two division one recruits in Rion Rayfield (20.4 ppg, North Dakota) and Matt Smith (13.1 ppg, 12.0 rpg, Lewis). Coach's son Bennett Deacon (12.6 ppg) joins his teammates as first team all-conference choices in the Midwest Classic.

The team ensured a new state champion in D-4 for the first time in five years by beating Randolph in the sectional final, 47-43.

"It was almost a game of attrition," coach Paul Deacon said. "It lived up to the hype. Matt Smith got in foul trouble and we started to lose some rebounds, but one time they got it down to four with three or four minutes left in the fourth quarter and Rion came down and hit one of those 25-footers and kind of put a dagger in them."

Other semi-final: Abbotsford (24-1) vs. Eleva-Strum (24-1), 9:05 a.m., Friday
Championship game, 12:05 p.m., Saturday.