Brown Deer's two-time Now All-Suburban basketball forward Taurus Adams II knew things were going to be different this year.
Gone to graduation were the likes of Lewrenzo Byers, Donovan Lucas and Zack Baun, staples of the Falcons back-to-back WIAA D3 state champions.
In fact, the 6-7 strong, quick-on-his-feet Adams looked around and saw that essentially the only other experienced hand going into this winter was senior shooting guard Craig Schimenz. At that point, Adams knew he was going to have to lift his game if the Falcons were going to succeed again.
'Coach (Kelly Appleby) told me that I had to be more vocal this year, that I had to be the one to step up and be the one to tell people what we needed to do if we wanted to stay in games,' said Adams. '...He put a lot on my back telling me that I had to be a real leader. Help the team in whatever way I could.'
Adams did step up and then some.
He was named Woodland Conference East Co-Player of the Year en route to earning WBCA Division 3 first-team All-State honors as well as the WBCA's Post of the Year honors. He led the Falcons to their fourth straight Woodland Conference Eastern Division crown and a sound 19-5 overall mark despite having a very young supporting cast around him.
'He was just dynamic all year for us,' said Appleby. 'The fewest points he had in a game was 12 and that was in a blow-out win. He was there every night, he never got hurt and he got every ball he was near on the boards.'
Adams became the second Falcon player in three years to earn the Post of the Year award, as Devante Jackson off the 2013-14 state champs was also an honoree.
As noted, the Falcons needed that kind of leadership. They had a roster that included seven seniors, but only Adams and Schimenz had any kind of real experience. There were also four juniors, three sophomore and a freshman (Jaylon Gentry) on this team.
In short, everyone was going to get a look and everyone had a chance to help Brown Deer to succeed this winter. They passed an early test beating eventual state D4 champ Dominican in the third game of the season and despite some bumps here and there continued to play well all winter long.
'I think many people thought that we were going to be really down this year,' said Appleby. 'Many people thought that Whitnall was going to win the conference but we wound up beating Whitnall twice. We also beat a good Greendale team, a nice Tosa West squad and we went up in division and competed with teams too.
'In fact, you look at our schedule, for us to come out 19-5 was pretty good. I was just really pleased with the guys development and work ethic. As a coach, after winning two titles, it does give you some legitimacy as a coach and the ability to push guys, because to play our style (a full-court, pressing and attacking style), you have to have guys who are committed and who care.'
Adams certainly fit that bill.
The hard-working (3.2 GPA) post ran the court at will and dominated the block almost every chance he got. He scored 21 points per game on 62 percent shooting from the field. He also hit 72 of 113 free throws (64 percent) and downed 19 3-pointers in the process. he grabbed 9.8 rebounds per game and worked well in the falcons' testy diamond press, averaging close to two steals a contest.
Adams was pleased with his own contributions, but noted that a lot of people on the team gave great effort this winter.
'In the end, we felt good about things,' he said. 'We were a little surprised at how good things turned out. We just came together faster than people thought. We knew we could do it because I was watching some of these guys play over the summer and I knew they could help.'
Adams said he was happy with the way he improved his rebounding. He said he also became more adept at grabbing a rebound and taking the ball directly up the court, starting the fastbreak himself.
Adams felt the team really came of age in the epic 102-99 upset of then unbeaten and top-ranked in in state D2 polls New Berlin Eisenhower on Jan. 29. It was just two games after a tough loss to Pewaukee and the win was near the start an 11-game win streak that didn't end until the season-closing regional loss to red-hot Milwaukee Lutheran, which eventually made the WIAA sectional finals.
'After that game, I thought we really started to play with passion, we really competed,' Adams said of the Eisenhower contest. 'We just kept working hard day in and day out.'
'It's not who you play, but when you play them,' he said. 'We got that good win over Dominican early and then we got our feet wet in the conference and that really helped. ...It took us a little while to get the team set up well and in the end we used a lot more man defense and a lot more run and jump (on the press).
'We finally got to a place where we could just let the kids go out there, run and do their thing. Let them play.'
It helped that his leader showed up everyday and did his job and then some. Adams said the WBCA Post of the Year honor was a pleasant surprise for him.
'I knew I was in the running but I didn't know I had earned it until someone told me,' Adams said. 'It's a great honor and I'm very glad to get it.'
Adams is now finishing up his college plans. Mid-majors and high NCAA DIIs are looking at him including schools like North Dakota State and Winona State. He hopes to make a decision soon.
'I want to get stronger and improve my ballhandling and outside shooting,' he said.
Looking at Brown Deer in the future, he and Appleby are confident about next year despite the graduation of himself, Schimenz, Todd Beadle, Alex Mayfield, Will White, Maurion Sherrod and Jeff Fojtik.
Both the junior varsity and freshmen teams posted winning records. The Falcons will return guards so Appleby is happy to note that the JV will likely provide the varsity with some size next winter.
'We could be a lot bigger next year,' he said. 'Frankly, we're excited by what we've got.'