Catching Up.... (or Back from the Dead)

Frustrated. Disappointed. Pining for the good ol' days when- even if people were negative, they were at least paying attention.

Let's get this Milwaukee Basketball fan base alive and kickin'!

Our Milwaukee Panther fan base has become a whisper-quiet grumbling echo chamber of fleeting shots at Jeter and the program which is, in reality a far cry from complete and utter "ashambles" that some would lead us to believe. But is has been a tough series of "almosts" for several years running.

On the bright side, we've gone 20-14, 19-14 and 20-14 these last three years. We've played in the NIT and CIT in the 2011 and 2012 postseasons, respectively. Is that something to brag about or be satisfied with? Hecky no. And that's why a huge swath of once-die hard fans (including myself for a long stretch) have lost the passion and tuned out more than a little bit.

That's also why the most frequent poster of the Milwaukee Basketball discussion board is as die-hard a Marquette fan as he is a Milwaukee fan (nothing wrong with that- but you do get the point, no?).

Well, I for one am "bringing back the band" so-to-speak and will resume blogging the travails of this team that is my favorite in all the Wide World of Sports. The team this blog writes about is the team that represents my alma mater and this great city by the Lake that so many of us love.

Once Gulley's back and Evan busts onto the scene, Jeter will have a nice cast to direct

So I have some catching up to do (I could just skip the past 9 months but that would be no fun). Here is what I missed in a nut-shell:

We regained our footing to end regular the '11-'12 regular season on a high note. Then, after crushing UIC in a lively offensive at the Klotsche Center, we were easily run out of the gym against Butler at the ARC in Valparaiso just a few days later in the 2nd Rd. of the HLT and then unceremoniously bounced in the 1st Rd. of the (unceremonious) CIT post-season tournament by the TCU Horned Frogs.

Tony Meier, Kaylon Williams and Ryan Allen all graduated and so we will no longer be able to witness their amazing talents in Milwaukee jerseys again (unless by chance one of them gets a job playing for the Bucks!). Allen actually landed a spot on the Bulls practice squad this past summer and played a few NBA minutes in the pre-season- which (goes without saying) is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

My own rumors of MPT's demise/death were greatly exaggerated... Apathy is a killer though!

In the off-season, AD Rick Costello (much like his predecessor Koonce) resigned in the middle of the night leaving Milwaukee in search of a new AD for the 3rd time in 3 years. And then, out of nowhere, we were able to convince former Ohio State (yes "The" Ohio State) Athletic Director Andy Geiger to come out of retirement for at least a year to help get our Athletic Department in order (Geiger was named AD in early May).

Almost immediately  Geiger made a big announcement that almost everyone expected. We would not be renewing our contract to play home games downtown at the US Cellular Arena. This shocked only the managers and lawyers representing the US Cellular Arena, but hey guys, as they say, "them's the brakes".

Maybe they should have brokered a more mutually beneficial deal and treated us with more respect as we were a relatively long-standing "pillar" tenant of theirs. But they didn't. And as everyone knows- you reap what you sow.

The problem with many fans (including myself), is that, while we are doing the right thing by getting out of the WCD (who owns/operates the US Cellular Arena) hostage situation and saving (and even making some) money at home on the East Side, no concrete plans have been brought forth in regards to future construction of an on-campus arena.

An on-campus arena could be used not just for basketball- but for volleyball, concerts (see- UIC's Pavilion), commencement ceremonies, exhibitions and conferences among a host of other things that just need an idea to be brought into the arena "fold".

Back to campus, all. No "bus"ted excuses now students! Get out and support Milwaukee!

But it's all about money, and we've got a slowly healing economy that doesn't lend itself to big donations (esp. to a team that hasn't forced very well-off hands to checkbooks like the teams from 2003-2006 did). It starts with winning and that's what I hope this crew intends to do- the future of Milwaukee Panther Basketball really does depend on what we do now that we are back to our small on-campus gym.

Look no further than to Loyola's beautiful new arena (that was renovated from a gym that looked a lot like the Klotsche Center), to see what can happen when money, minds and vision combine. We could have a great facility, but rumors are not enough to get donors on board (it seems we've heard rumors of an on-campus arena since 2009.... yeesh). But that's all they are- just rumors without any legs.

Chancellor Lovell announces Geiger as Milwaukee Athletics new AD

This will be an interesting experiment and it is necessary, but if/when the AD could announce something substantive, it would go miles for Panther fans' peace of mind and support for the future of Milwaukee Basketball. It was announced that we plan to use student segregated fees to build a basketball practice facility which does help our practice scheduling conflicts and helps recruiting- so that is a plus...

But many fans fret that we will be playing in the Klotsche Gym well into the 21st Century. Complacency should not be the goal. I sure hope we are all proven wrong and that things behind the scenes have substance and are just waiting for the right moment/phase to let us in on the big plan(s).

So yes, getting Andy Geiger on board was a tremendous positive. He has already directed many changes to the culture- especially in recognizing our schizo athletic branding problems and streamlining the "Milwaukee Panthers" brand. See the UWM Bookstore- in addition to the standard "UWM Alumni", "UWM Grandma" and "UW-Milwaukee" academic apparel and merch, they finally have all the "Milwaukee Panthers" gear even the most rabid Panther fan has dreamed of for years.

But with the ups come the downs.. We had an unexpected departure of over half of our returning veteran backcourt. Ja'Rob McCallum (now with IUPUI), Lonnie Boga (transferred to Drury University in Springfield, MO) and our once-heralded point guard Shaq Boga all transferred or otherwise left (I can't seem to find out where Shaq wound up).

A win over Davidson and a near-win over Frank Martin's Gamecocks = GOOD. UALR Loss = BAD.

I think everyone and their Mom in Milwaukee saw these guys as the future. But Shaq didn't get many minutes as a Frosh, Lonnie's shoulder never fully healed, and Ja'Rob had a wrist problem that may have contributed to his departure.

Regardless, I hope they all know we appreciate what they did for this program and wish they were still Milwaukee Panthers. Life goes on and everything (usually) happens for a reason.

So naturally, much needed backcourt help was suddenly priority #1 for the coaching staff. Fortunately for Milwaukee, it came in spades in the way of the additions of Jordan "Jay-O" Aaron of Bronx, NY and Thiarno "Bobo" Niang who hails from Senegal. Both players have been very effective in the early-goings (Bobo with his defense and Aaron with his D and tremendous offensive firepower (he's averaging 19pts and 5ast through the first 4 games)).

These two JuCo stars joined 6'6" wing and standout shooter Austen Arians of Stoughton, WI and Indiana State transfer guard, Steve McWhorter (who will sit out this season per NCAA D-I transfer rules).

We nearly had a feast of Gamecocks before it all fell apart at the end of regulation...

Add to these the unleashing of J.J Panoske and a healthy Evan Richard, the other returning vets who have logged big minutes (esp. Haarsma, Haggerty and Demetrius Harris) and we could have something to be excited about this season. Unfortunately our sharp-shooting senior Paris Gulley broke his non-shooting hand just before the start of the season, however he is expected to make a healthy return in the next couple of weeks. His return will be a much needed booster shot.

Austen Arians has more than held his own getting some serious minutes as a true freshman. He is 6'6" and can stretch opposing defenses with his ability to dribble and make deep shots like a true wing. Redshirt freshman J.J. Panoske is slowly warming up in this, his first NCAA season.

Expect Panoske to get more minutes as he gets more experience. Austen's many minutes have come largely due to the fact that beyond Aaron and Niang, we don't have many seasoned options. When Paris is back and Evan Richard remembers who he was against Wisconsin last year, we will have more threats in the backcourt and should be positioned a lot better to run the up-tempo offense that Jay-O is accustomed to managing.

Jay-O and Big Meetch have been very impressive for Milwaukee through the first 4 games.

And this season... A quick flyby goes as follows- we nearly lost our lone exhibition game vs. Parkside (which concerned many) only to knock the University of Mary out of the park in our regular season opener 76-46 (which encouraged many- even though U of Mary is not exactly the greatest challenge).

Some real excitement began to build when Milwaukee lead decisively at South Carolina (by as many as 18 points early in the 2nd half and by 5 with just 4 minutes left), only to allow the Gamecocks back in the game and lose 82-75 in OT. But our ability to keep an SEC opponent at more than arm's length for 36 minutes (and Jay-O's 28pts showcase) gave hope to Panther fans everywhere.

We then defeated a very good Davidson team in front of a home crowd of 3,000+ that included a boisterous student section (Davidson just took out West Virginia earlier today FWIW). This positive development (what seemed like an "almost" undefeated early non-con season) came crashing back to earth like a methane-filled meteor in the form of a head-scratching, fan-alienating abysmal road performance against the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. We shot 32% FG, 22% 3pt and 40% from the charity stripe.

If we can make waves in and out of conference, the On-Campus Experiment may just work out.

And so with these numbers, the inevitable outcome was realized- a 59-43 loss to a team that (from what I could hear from Bill Johnson and Kevin O'Conner's radio call) was not at all impressive that night and employed a simple tactic of "hack-a-Panther and hope the free throws clank and the refs let 'em play". The refs most certainly let them play, but that is a poor excuse.

If a team gets physical and the refs don't call much- we have to be at least equally and at best even more physical and not cede the game to the officiating crew. Both teams did not play well in this game- but Milwaukee (2-2) out-ugly'd UALR and would up with loss #2 of this early season. We just gotta adapt sometimes.

The lone bright spot of that horrid night of frigid shooting was Demetrius Harris who was returning home (he's from Jacksonville, AR). Big Meetch seems to be finding himself big-time this season. He has gotten better every game and may just find his inner Ant Hill by the time conference rolls around (hopefully even sooner than that!).

This is where the team has been chillin' for the past few days. Tomorrow it's back at 'em.

So that brings us to today. The team has been in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico since Tuesday soaking in the fun and sun and prepping for this weekend's Hoops for Hope Tourney. We play Jacksonville (2-3) tomorrow at 3:30pm CST and Rider (2-3) the following day (Sunday) also at 3:30pm CST. Both games are radio-only, so tune into WISN 1130 either via your car/home radio or through iHeart Radio which can access the WISN AM signal from anywhere on earth via the wonders of the internet.

This weekend is a huge test to see if this team can shut down opponents they are supposed to beat. We are in dire need of getting the season back on track and fan support back "intact". These things are extremely correlated what with our largely fickle and oftentimes short-sighted fan base.

Are we all sufficiently caught up now?

Can we get a hologram of Clay Tucker to play for us? We might just have one in Jay-O...

Let's face it. Much of the once-rabid Milwaukee Panther Fan base has evaporated. But as the saying goes, "winning cures all ills" in sport. And the experiment of moving back to the Klotsche has already seen success with the nearly-packed gym victory over a well-coached Davidson team that returned all 5 starters from their NCAA run last year.

This may be the return of Milwaukee Panther Tracks. But this means little. This site,, and the discussion boards are just words on a screen. What us fans really need- what will re-activate the fans who have lost (some, most or nearly all) interest in Milwaukee Basketball is- the Return of NCAA Tourney-caliber Milwaukee Panther Basketball.

It ain't easy being a Mid-Major aspiring to make the Field of 64. But more than a few will do it once again this season. Why not us? Why not now?