Germantown, Lincoln hoops teams had more in common than just state titles

Lawinger and Smallins make comparisons

April 17, 2012

Six-degrees of local basketball excellence.

Dick Wadewitz coached Milwaukee Lincoln to WIAA state basketball titles in 1961 and 1962.

Wadewitz then moved on to coach UW-Platteville where he became a neighbor of a precocious hoops star named Jim Lawinger.

Lawinger starred on a great Platteville High School team that made the WIAA state semifinals in 1967 before losing to the great Fred Brown/Clarence Sherrod-led Milwaukee Lincoln team coached by Jim Smallins. Lawinger set some state tournament free-throw records that still stand and Smallins' squads, which won titles in 1966 and 1967, are widely considered among the very top teams in Wisconsin prep history averaging an almost freakish 102.6 points per game in 1967's 25-1 season.

Lawinger went on to coach at Sussex Hamilton and led the Chargers to a state tournament berth in 1987. Later, he became an assistant coach at Germantown, which recently finished a 28-0 WIAA state Division 1 championship season and in doing so drew comparisons to Smallins' powerhouse Lincoln squads of the 1960s.

Germantown averaged 80 points a game, dominating in a way similar to Lincoln and using the Comets' same formula for success, intense full-court pressure and effective long-range shooting.

Coincidentally, Smallins has been a volunteer assistant at Whitefish Bay for many years, and he helped the Blue Dukes to a state D2 championship in 2011 before Bay took two hard losses to the high-octane Germantown squad this winter.

Six degrees of separation

Germantown head coach Steve Showalter starred at UW-Platteville where he played for Bo Ryan. Showalter's son, Zak, the all-state star of the Warhawks, will play for Ryan at Wisconsin next winter.

In short, it's a small, small basketball world after all.

"To play against an all-black team like Lincoln (at Platteville High) was not a first for us," said Lawinger, who will be inducted into the state basketball coaches' association hall of fame this October as a player, "because by that time coach Wadewitz had come down (to UW-Platteville) and black kids started following him there.

"But the thing was, you were never exposed to quickness like you saw (with Lincoln). Their hands were so quick. Much faster than we were used to."

"Coming from Indiana, I was never a fan of the slow game," Smallins said of his team's philosophy.

Quickness, athleticism

Lawinger said the comparisons between Germantown and Lincoln are natural. Lincoln lost a fluke two-point decision at the start of the 1966-67 season to Monroe and then was never challenged after that, with only two teams getting within single digits of them (including Wausau, 61-56, in the title game).

Germantown finished 28-0 with only two teams getting within single digits, including Milwaukee King, 72-69, in the final.

Smallins said other comparison could be drawn. Both teams relied on their quickness and athleticism, and both teams drew full houses everywhere they went because of their high-octane talent (Zak Showalter and Josh Mongan serving as the backcourt equivalents of Brown and Sherrod for Germantown).

"We went to Eau Claire (for a nonconference game) and they had never seen an all-black team before and it was absolutely packed," Smallins said.

He would also sit in for talks with these outstate programs and bring his players along, sitting them amid the usually all-white crowd, so both groups could get more comfortable with one another.

He did that partly because he had been the first African-American player at Evansville (Indiana) College.

Both Lincoln and Germantown also had to deal with key midseason personnel losses.

Lincoln lost John Rushing, a 24 points a game scorer after 10 games, due to midterm graduation while the Warhawks lost the services of center Luke Fischer for eight games due to a hand injury (though they did get him back in time for the state tournament run).

Neither team skipped a beat. Lincoln scored more than 100 points in each of the final 12 games of the regular season and scored more than 90 points in each of their first six state tournament wins. Germantown battered high-level opposition like Homestead and East Troy immediately after Fischer went down and never blinked an eye.

Teams were close

And both teams were very tight, very unified. Smallins said that after Rushing left, he said the team adopted a "next man-up philosophy."

"They were so easy to coach," said Smallins. "I would stand up to call a pattern and Clarence (Sherrod) would look over at me and say 'Gotcha, coach'. Just a very, very close-knit group. They just could read each other so well. They made it easy.

"Teams tried a lot of different things on us, but this group was so basketball smart that we could adjust almost immediately. We also tried a lot of different things in practice so we would know exactly what to do (in a given situation)."

Meanwhile, Germantown's core players Zak Showalter, Mongan and power forward Dan Studer had literally played hundreds and hundreds of games together since fifth grade. The Warhawks also had the tremendous incentive and unifying experience of a controversial super-sectional loss to Appleton East the season before.

No 3-point line

And, as effective as it was with the press, Lincoln was just as happy with the outside shot. Given that there was no 3-point line back then, both Smallins' and Lawinger's minds reel at the numbers Lincoln could have put up with such a rule in effect.

"All three of them (Brown, Sherrod and Ellis Turrentine) could shoot pro-length 3-pointers," Smallins said. Brown, as some old-timers will remember, earned the nickname "Downtown Freddie Brown" during a subsequent NBA career.

Correspondingly, Germantown led Division 1 state tournament teams in 3-point makes heading into Madison as Zak and Jake Showalter and Mongan were all deadly from behind the arc.

In short. Lawinger feels that the theoretical game between 1967 Lincoln and 2012 Germantown would be great fun.

"The margin of victory for the tournament games for Lincoln was 30.13 and Germantown was 30.6," he said. "After reading the articles on Lincoln, playing against Lincoln and coaching Germantown; I think the game would be a classic match up."

Interestingly enough, in Lawinger's eyes, he sees a closer comparison between Lincoln and this year's state D4 champion, Whitefish Bay Dominican. Germantown gave the Knights their only loss of the season early in the season.

"Their guards correspond very well with Lincoln's," Lawinger said of the Knights Duane Wilson and Jamall Taylor. "Wilson looked like Sherrod but he played like Brown (laughs)." Ironically, a role player on Lincoln's 1967 team, Tommie Williams, is Wilson's grandfather.

Smallins, who is a member of both the Indiana and Wisconsin High School Basketball Hall of Fames, said he keeps in pretty good contact with his former players and he's pleased that the Bay coaches bring him in from time to time to talk about his squads and tell the current players that they, too, can achieve excellence if they put their minds to it.

"We had a motto (at Lincoln)," he said. "If it can be done, then I can do it.'"

Both the Lincoln and Germantown did so emphatically.

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