EagleHerald/Billy Betts Jordan Janofski of UWGB-Marinette puts up a shot during a shooting drill in practice on Wednesday.
EagleHerald/Billy Betts Jordan Janofski of UWGB-Marinette puts up a shot during a shooting drill in practice on Wednesday.

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MARINETTE — The evolution of the 3-and-D players leading run-and-gun offenses has been taking over the NBA for years and is now funneling down to the collegiate and high school levels.

For the UWGB-Marinette Buccaneers basketball team, getting up and down the floor will be the primary focus this season and head coach Bryan Wickstrom feels he has the horses to handle a fast-paced game.

“We’ve got a lot of speed with a ton of good athletes,” Wickstrom said. “It’s going to be a shoot-first offense and we expect to get up the court in a hurry this season.”

The Bucs return two players from last year’s 12-10 team in sophomores Connor Nelson and Levi Kempka.

Nelson, a 6-0 guard, and the 6-2 Kempka were key pieces to the Buccaneers last season and Wickstrom is thrilled with the leadership they’ve provided to a young, but talented roster.

“I can’t say enough about Connor and Levi. They’re great leaders and from Day 1, I could count on them for anything,” said Wickstrom. “They’re two coaches on the floor and they’re not afraid to help their new teammates get better.”

Both Nelson and Kempka, who will be factor in the starting lineup, like what they see from the incoming freshman and have high expectations for this young group.

“The main difference from last year is we have have less height, so the playing style will be different,” said Kempka. “We have several great athletes that can get up the floor quickly. Our goal is to win the conference get back to state and this team has the makings of doing that.”

A third sophomore is on the roster in former Lena standout Connor Heise, who transferred to UWGB-Marinette after playing last season at Viterbo.

In the 5-10 Heise, Wickstrom has the first true point guard his Buccaneers have had in years while also gaining a knock-down shooter that can splash it from anywhere on the court.

“We were very excited when Connor transferred because he was a player we heavily recruited while in high school,” Wickstrom said. “He’s showing the signs of being a true point, something we haven’t had in a long time. He’s a great kid.”

Fellow freshmen Preston Lauscher (6-3) from Carney-Nadeau; Cameron Willemsen (6-3) from Rapid River; Jack Farley (5-11) from St. Thomas Aquinas Academy and Jakob Voss (5-10) from Crivitz are all expected to factor into the starting lineup or the first couple spots off the bench.

Lauscher and Willemsen are excellent athletes that provide length and athleticism and can play multiple positions.

“Preston is a tremendous asset and a very humble player who doesn’t realize how good he really is,” said Wickstrom. “Cam is a great athlete that comes from a very good basketball program. He reminds me of a quicker Matt Newman.”

Farley and Voss are gritty guards that can both shoot and handle the basketball, giving the Bucs many different options.

Other freshmen include: Christian Hornick (6-2) from STAA; Jordan Janofski (6-7) from Carney-Nadeau; Victor Lee (6-2) from John Marshall in Indianapolis and Austin Zorn (5-11) from Michigan Virtual Charter Academy.

Janofski is coming off an ACL tear last season and is still working himself into game shape, but Wickstrom expects him to be an important pace at some point in the season.

Wickstrom also likes what he’s seen from Hornick, who excelled along with Farley for years at STAA.

“Jordan is just working his way back and will need some time to get in shape, but he’s our biggest guy and we’ll need his size,” said Wickstrom. “Christian plays smart and knows his strengths and limitations. He also provides good size on a team lacking that.”

Though shooting and speed will be their best weapons, Wickstrom, along with Nelson and the rest of his teammates know it will take time to get settled in a new offensive style.

“You can’t simulate what a game is like in practice, so it will take us a few games to figure things out,” Nelson said. “We’re going to live and die by three’s a lay-ups. The effort has been there in practice and this is a smart group. The key for us will be starting out strong.”

UWGB-Marinette opens up on the road against UW-Waukesha on Saturday, a team that always features talented players with good size.

“They return their leading scorer from last year, so I expect it to be a tough matchup,” said Nelson. “You never know what each team will have for players each season, but I expect it to be another competitive conference.”

This is Wickstrom’s fourth season as the Buccaneers head coach and 13th overall in the program. He is assisted by Travis Champeau, a former player who was vital to the Buccaneers state championship team in 2015.

“I really believe this is one of the better groups I’ve been a part of to start,” Wickstrom said. “We’ve generated a lot of interest from local talent of the years from the success of our program. To get to the next level, we’ll need buy into the system and keep working hard to improve.”