Greenfield - A new era begins for Whitnall boys basketball this season.
Steve Kujawa takes over as the head coach after the retirement of Kent Kroupa, and Kujawa has a largely new group to work with, as a number of talented players - including two-time NOW Newspapers All-Suburban choice Stephen Pelkofer - were lost to graduation.
Not that Kujawa is a stranger to Whitnall basketball, as he spent 14 of his 18 years in coaching at the school.
"Under Kent Kroupa, I served as the freshman or junior varsity coach, or varsity assistant, depending upon what he needed from me," Kujawa said.
Kujawa began his coaching career at New Berlin West under Jeff Lewiston, who like Kroupa owns a WIAA state championship. He worked at West as both a freshman coach and varsity assistant.
Coaching runs in his family, as his father Ken directed the Cudahy varsity boys team for 12 seasons and the Oak Creek girls squad for five years.
This season is his first as a head coach for basketball, and he has a veteran squad with 10 seniors, although many of them did not see significant time on last year's 22-3 team.
Senior team captains are Sam Mentkowski, who is coming off a record-breaking season as a wide receiver in football; Danny Weymier, who played major minutes for last year's basketball team; and Brent Sluka.
The other seniors are Trenton Coleman, Austin Hurst, Michael Radavich, Colton Stanislawski, Mitchell Molbeck, Zach Sutton, who just finished a brilliant season at quarterback; and Shane Murphy.
Juniors are Mitch Brault, Nathan Schaefer, Blake Stencel, Matt Pook and Chris Kelnhofer.
"The strength will be our guard play," Kujawa said. "Our senior captains gained valuable experience as members of the rotation from last year's team. We are focusing on dribble-drive penetration.
"Our bread and butter should be our half-court man-to-man defense, which is aggressive and predicated on a help-side philosophy."
The Falcons must begin the season without Weymier, an expected starter, and Radavich, who is projected as a major contributor as well. Both are currently injured, but are expected to be back in a couple of weeks, Kujawa said.
"Our main area of concern will be a lack of overall size, as our tallest starter is 6-3," the coach said, "so we will need to make sure we have sound defensive rebounding positioning."
Kujawa sees a wide-open race in the new Woodland Conference East Division, with Brown Deer, South Milwaukee and Whitnall battling for the crown. He thinks Shorewood could be a wild card and that St. Francis and Cudahy should be improved.
The Falcons open their season at 3 p.m. Saturday at Waukesha West. They then start Woodland play at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday at St. Francis.
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