skip navigation

All-Time Best: Van Exel nothing short of "Van Excellent" in Kenosha's history

05/11/2020, 2:00pm CDT
By Mark Miller

(Editor's Note: WisSports.net basketball writer Mark Miller is using the extra time available due to COVID-19 to research the high school basketball history of some of Wisconsin's larger cities. His All-Time Best series will run on WisSports.net during the next few months).

There have been plenty of stellar shooters in the history of high school basketball in Wisconsin, but few players, if any, made more difficult shots from deep than Nick Van Exel. 

Although the crafty 6-foot-1, left-handed guard played just two seasons of varsity basketball, his put up ridiculous scoring numbers for coach Dan Chubrilo and the Lancers, scoring 1,282 points in 52 games for an average of 24.6 ppg. 

He was able to do so, despite being the focus of opposing defenses in one of the state's elite conferences in the late 1980s, by being quick, confident, relentless, elusive and deadly accurate. 

Van Exel, of course, went on to help Cincinnati to a Final Four appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1992 and later embarked on a very productive 13-year career in the NBA. 

Van Exel is considered the top player in Kenosha history, followed by maybe the best rebounder in city history in 1957 Kenosha High School graduate Jeff Cohen.

Following is an in-depth look at Kenosha high school basketball history. 

Criteria For All-Time Kenosha Teams
1) In order to be chosen to the first or second all-time team, a player must have earned first, second, third or fourth team all-state honors from either the Associated Press or United Press International. Exceptions will be made, but will be rare.

2) In addition to the accomplishments a player achieved in high school, their college honors in the sport also weigh heavily when selecting the teams.  

All-Time Kenosha Team

NAME HEIGHT GRADUATION YEAR HIGH SCHOOL All-State Team
FIRST TEAM
Nick Van Exel 6'1" 1989 Kenosha St. Joseph 1st (AP)
Jeff Cohen 6'7" 1957 Kenosha High School HM (AP)
Mitch Urbanski 6'5" 1964 Kenosha Bradford 2nd (AP) (UPI)
Andre Speed 6'4" 1997 Kenosha St. Joseph 1st (AP)
Joe Merten 6'5" 1977 Kenosha Tremper 3rd (AP)

Nick Van Exel, 6-1, 1989, Kenosha St. Joseph
First Team All-State 1989 (AP) 

Van Exel is one of the most accomplished players to ever play high school basketball in Wisconsin. As a senior, he averaged 29.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 5.2 apg for a St. Joseph squad that went 20-6 and lost to Milwaukee Marquette in the WISAA Class A finals. The smooth lefty with incredible shooting range scored 772 points as a senior and scored 30 or more points 15 times, including a career-high 42 in a 78-71 loss to Marquette on January 13, 1989. He also torched De Pere Pennings for 39 points in a WISAA state semifinal in 1989 and concluded his two-year varsity career playing for the late Dan Chubrilo with 1,282 points. Van Exel played two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas before starring for coach Bob Huggins at Cincinnati. He averaged 12.3 points and 2.9 assists in 1991-92 as the Bearcats advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. A year later, Van Exel averaged 18.3 ppg and 4.5 apg as Cincinnati advanced to the Elite Eight. He then went on to play 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association. Van Excel averaged in double figures in 12 of his 13 years in the NBA and finished with a career average of 14.4 ppg. He now serves as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Jeff Cohen, 6-7, 1957, Kenosha High School
Honorable Mention All-State 1957 (AP)

In the first year of the Associated Press All-State team in 1957, Cohen earned honorable mention all-state laurels, though many believe the top scorer and rebounder in city history at the time should have been at least a first- or second-team selection. Cohen was the first player in Big Eight Conference history to earn first-team all-league honors three years in a row as he accomplished the feat in 1955, 1956 and 1957. He is also the first player in Kenosha history to score 1,000 points as he finished his brilliant three-year career with 1,308 points. A 6-foot-7 forward, Cohen moved to Kenosha during his freshman year from Rockford, Ill. He scored 41 points in a win over Racine Horlick in his senior season and averaged 23.6 ppg as a senior and 22.5 ppg as a junior for coach Don Sudkamp. He went on to William & Mary and started for four seasons, scoring more than 2,000 points and grabbing more than 1,600 rebounds. He was later drafted by the Chicago Packers (now the Washington Wizards) in the second round of the NBA Draft in 1961 and played for a few seasons with the Hawaii Chiefs of the long-defunct American Pro Basketball League. Cohen also traveled with the Harlem Gloebtrotters in the early 1960s as a member of the Washington Nationals squad that scrimmaged against the Globetrotters.

Mitch Urbanski, 6-5, 1965, Kenosha Bradford
First Team All-State 1964 (UPI); Second Team All-State 1964 (AP)

Urbanski helped Kenosha Bradford to 19 straight victories and the school's first Big Eight Conference title in 29 years as a senior in 1963-64. He averaged 21.0 points per game and set a then league record with 49 points in a 91-67 victory over Madison West. Kenosha Bradford lost to Racine Park in a regional final, ending one of its most successful season ever with a 19-1 record. Also a standout pitcher for the Bradford baseball squad, Urbanski went on to play college basketball at Tulane University in New Orleans. As a sophomore at Tulane, Urbanski scored 22 points and eight rebounds in a 103-74 loss to Kentucky on March 7, 1966. A knee injury later slowed his career at Tulane.

Andre Speed, 6-4, 1997, Kenosha St. Joseph
First Team All-State 1996 (AP)

The only freshman to be named first-team all-league in the 65-year history of the Milwaukee Catholic/Metro Conference, Speed burst onto the scene in 1993-94, scoring 499 points in 25 games for a 19.9 point-per-game average as a ninth grader competing in one of the state's toughest conferences. The athletic, strong and mobile 6-foot-4 forward also earned first-team all-Metro laurels as a sophomore and junior, averaging 17.6 ppg in 1994-95 and 21.3 ppg in 1995-96 when the Lancers went 15-9 and qualified for the WISAA State Tournament under coach Rocky Tirabassi. Speedw, who also averaged 14.8 rpg as a junior en route to earning first-team all-state honors, scored 24 points and hauled down 15 rebounds for St. Joseph in its state quarterfinal game against Milwaukee Marquette, but it wasn't enough as the Hilltoppers registered a 61-51 triumph. Speed was ruled academically ineligible for the first 16 games of his senior season, but came back to play in the Lancers final eight contests, averaging 15.3 ppg. He scored 1,541 career points and went on to play two productive seasons at Dodge Community College in Kansas before playing at the NCAA Division I level at Centenary. 

Joe Merten, 6-5, 1977, Kenosha Tremper
Third Team All-State 1977 (AP)

Merten was just beginning to blossom as a player when he graduated from Kenosha Tremper in the spring of 1977. After averaging 21 points and 16 rebounds as a senior for coach Saint Jimenez and the Trojans, who finished 11-11 and lost to Janesville Craig in a WIAA Class A sectional final, Merten went on to star at UW-Eau Claire. He started 98 of 113 career games for coach Ken Anderson and earned honorable mention NAIA All-American honors in 1980-81. The three-time first-team all-Wisconsin State University Conference selection scored 1,193 points, grabbed 598 rebounds and blocked 85 shots during his stellar career with the Blugolds. Merten was selected in the 10th round of the 1981 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz and played three years in the Continental Basketball Association, including two seasons with the Wisconsin Flyers (1983-85).

All-Time Kenosha Team

NAME HEIGHT GRADUATION YEAR HIGH SCHOOL All-State Team
SECOND TEAM
Andre Brown 6'0" 2015 Kenosha Indian Trail 2nd (AP)
Myron Glass 5'11" 1991 Kenosha St. Joseph 4th (AP)
Al Steel 6'1" 1984 Kenosha St. Joseph 3rd (AP)
Kyle Clark 6'4" 2004 Kenosha St. Joseph 3rd (AP)
Kyle Jeffery 6'7" 2004 Kenosha Tremper 4th (AP)

Andre Brown, 6-0, 2015, Kenosha Indian Trail
Second Team All-State 2015 (AP)

Brown was named Player of the Year in the Southeast Conference in 2014-15 after leading the Hawks to a share of the league title with Racine Horlick under the direction of coach Al Anderson. Brown averaged 19.9 ppg and had 497 points as a senior as Kenosha Indian Trail finished with a 21-5 record after losing to Madison East in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final. Brown scored a career-high 45 points in a season-opening triumph over Westosha Central. He went on to play four seasons at NCAA Division III Whitewater, where he earned first-team all-league honors as a junior and honorable mention all-conference recognition as a senior. He scored 1,152 career points in 103 games at Whitewater for an average of 11.2 ppg. 

Myron Glass, 5-11, 1991, Kenosha St. Joseph
Fourth Team All-State 1990 (AP)

One of the top all-around athletes to ever come out of Kenosha, Glass excelled on the football field, basketball court and baseball diamond at St. Joseph from 1987-91. He played three seasons of varsity basketball for coach Dan Chubrilo, starting in the same backcourt as Nick Van Exel in 1988-89 when the Lancers went 20-6 and lost to Milwaukee Marquette in the WISAA Class A title game. The two-time first-team all-Metro Conference pick earned fourth-team all-state laurels as a junior and honorable mention all-state honors as a senior. He scored 1,214 career points in 72 games for an average of 16.8 ppg. Glass scored a career-best 35 points as a senior in a loss to Milwaukee Pius XI. He went to play both football and baseball at the University of Northern Iowa.  

Al Steel, 6-1, 1984, Kenosha St. Joseph
Third Team All-State 1984 (AP)

Pound-for-pound one of the toughest and most productive players in Kenosha history, Steel finished his three-year prep career as the No. 3 scorer in the 65-year history of the Milwaukee Catholic/Metro Conference. Steel scored 903 points in 48 Metro Conference contests to rank behind only John Johnson of Messmer and Don Kojis of Notre Dame. Steel also was the catalyst behind St. Joseph's lone title in the league in 1983-84. Steel went on to play college basketball at Milwaukee Area Technical College and UW-Parkside. 

Kyle Clark, 6-4, 2004, Kenosha St. Joseph
Third Team All-State 2004 (AP)

The Player of the Year in the Lakeshore Conference as a junior and senior, Clark scored 1,100 points in three varsity seasons at St. Joseph under coach Dr. Ray Knight. He helped the Lancers to a combined 61-12 record from 2001-04, including two league titles and a trip to the WIAA Division 3 State Tournament in 2003. As a senior, Clark averaged 18.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. He went on to play four seasons of college basketball at nearby UW-Parkside, scoring 1,512 points for the Rangers and coach Luke Reigel. 

Kyle Jeffery, 6-7, 2004, Kenosha Tremper
Fourth Team All-State 2004 (AP)

Jeffery averaged 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior while helping Kenosha Tremper to an 18-5 record and its first title in the Southeast Conference in nine seasons. The physical forward earned Player of the Year laurels in the league while playing for coach John Wilhelmson. He attended NCAA Division II Mercyhurst for a semester before earning second-team all-league honors in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin for Carthage in 2006. After sitting out the 2006-07 campaign, Jeffery played his final year of college basketball at UW-Parkside. 

Kenosha's Additional All-Staters

NAME HEIGHT GRADUATION YEAR HIGH SCHOOL All-State Team
David Tolefree 6'2" 2001 Kenosha St. Joseph 4th (AP)
Cerci Mahone 6'1" 1974 Kenosha Bradford 5th (UPI)
Rade Dimitrijevic 6'6" 1973 Kenosha Tremper 4th (UPI)

Notes: Tolefree had good size and a nose for the basket while playing at St. Joseph for coaches Rocky Tirabassi and Dr. Ray Knight. The 6-foot-2 wing could knife his way to the basket and score while drawing fouls. He averaged 21.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 2.9 apg as a senior in 2000-01, helping the Lancers to a 23-3 finish, the Lakeshore Conference title and a spot in the WIAA Division 3 State Tournament. As a junior, Tolefree netted a career-high 38 points in a win over St. John's Military and earned first-team all-Lakeshore laurels while leading St. Joseph to a 21-3 record and a runner-up finish in the WISAA Division 2 State Tournament. Tolefree played college basketball ta Cowley Community College in Kansas, Lake Land Community College in Illinois and at NCAA Division I Centenary ... Mahone, a 6-foot-2 guard, earned first-team all-South Shore Conference laurels in 1973 and 1974 and helped the Red Devils of Kenosha Bradford to a 34-8 record during his junior and senior years under coach Jerry Verwey ... As a senior, Mahone averaged 18.0 ppg as Bradford won the league title and went 18-4. Mahone played two seasons at the South Dakota -- Springfield, and two years at South Dakota State ... Dimitrijevic had a strong senior season at Kenosha Tremper in 1972-73, averaging 20.0 ppg and earning Player of the Year honors in the South Shore Conference. IN a regional upset victory over rival Kenosha Bradford, Dimitrijevic finished with 22 points and 22 rebounds. The rugged 6-foot-6 forward went on to play college basketball at UW-Parkside and is a member of the school's Hall of Fame. 

Stars Prior To All-State Teams (Pre-1957)

NAME HEIGHT GRADUATION YEAR HIGH SCHOOL
Gene Breiling 6'0" 1956 Kenosha High School
Del Warosh 6'3" 1955 Kenosha St. Mary
Gene Suppelsa 6'5" 1954 Kenosha High School
Tom Braatz 5'11" 1951 Kenosha High School
Tom Bienemann 6'3" 1946 Kenosha High School
Gene Englund 6'4" 1936 Kenosha High School

Notes: Breiling earned team MVP honors and first-team all-Big Eight laurels for Kenosha High School in 1956. The 6-foot-0 guard capped a three-year varsity career by averaging 13.9 ppg for coach Don Sudkamp, who guided the Red Devils to a 16-5 record. Breiling later played baseball at UW-La Crosse ... Playing for Kenosha St. Mary, which later became Kenosha St. Joseph, center Del Warosh turned in a spectacular season for the Blue Knights in 1954-55. The 6-foot-3 forward scored 520 points, shot .497 percent from the field and averaged 17.3 ppg for a team that went 22-8. He scored 29 points in St. Mary's first game in the Wisconsin Catholic Invitational at St. Norbert College, helping the Blue Knights to a 77-73 win over Eau Claire Regis in the quarterfinal round of the event ... Suppelsa used his 6-foot-5 size to dominate the Big Eight Conference in 1953-54. He scored 711 during his two-year varsity career, including 448 as a senior when he averaged 22.4 ppg for coach Chuck Jaskwhich and the Red Devils. Suppelsa scored a then school-record 40 points in a victory over Madison Central as a senior and earned Player of the Year honors in the league. He went on to play college basketball at Marquette, serving as the captain of the 1958-59 squad that went 23-6 under coach Eddie Hickey ... Braatz earned a spot on the first-team all-Big Eight Conference squad in 1950-51 primarily because of his intense defense and ability to rebound. He did score 145 points in league outings as a senior, but his gritty nature and toughness were his main strong points. Braatz went on to play college football at Marquette and later became general manager of the Green Bay Packers ... Bienemann was a stellar athlete for Kenosha High School coach Andy Smith, leading the Big Eight Conference in scoring by a wide margin as a senior in 1945-46 when he averaged 15.9 ppg and netted 223 points in 14 league outings. The physically strong and athletic 6-foot-3 forward went on to play college football at Drake and played in the NFL as a defensive end for the Chicago Cardinals from 1951-56 ... Englund was one of the best high school players in Wisconsin during the first half of the 20th century. He set a then Big Eight Conference-record as a senior by scoring 148 points in league outings in 1935-36. The physical 6-foot-4 post player went on to play at the University of Wisconsin and helped the Badgers win the NCAA Tournament in 1941. He earned All-American honors in the process. Englund then played for the Oshkosh All-Stars from 1941-43 and 1946-49. He also played with the Boston Celtics in 1949-50 and with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in 1950. The All-Stars competed in the National Basketball League, while England played in the National Basketball Association with the Celtics and Blackhawks.

Kenosha's All-Time Top Scorers

NAME HEIGHT GRADUATION YEAR HIGH SCHOOL POINTS
DeAndre Johns 6'2" 2017 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,856
De'Monte Nelson 6'0" 2018 Kenosha Bradford 1,641
Andre Speed 6'4" 1997 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,541
Jeff Cohen 6'7" 1957 Kenosha High School 1,308
Nick Van Exel 6'1" 1989 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,282
David Tolefree 6'2" 2001 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,280
Myron Glass 5'11" 1991 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,214
Al Steel 6'1" 1984 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,155
Kyle Clark 6'4" 2004 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,100
Bill Mayew 6'7" 1993 Kenosha Tremper 1,086
Steve Djurickovic 6'3" 2007 Kenosha Bradford 1,084
Jason Hahn 6'1" 1995 Shoreland Lutheran 1,069
Del Warosh 6'3" 1955 Kenosha St. Mary 1,024
Bill Kolar 6'1" 1969 Kenosha St. Joseph 1,021

Notes: Johns is a four-time first-team all-Kenosha County performer who starred for the varsity team at St. Joseph from 2013-17 under coach Jose Wineston. Johns scored more points than any other player in city history and had a career-best 42 points in his final high school game, an 82-80 loss to Milwaukee Destiny on March 4, 2017. He went on to play at Frank Phillip Community College and Cardinal Stritch University ... Nelson averaged a whopping 28.7 ppg as a senior at Kenosha Bradford in 2017-18 and finished his prep career as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,641 points. As a senior, Nelson earned honorable mention all-state laurels from the Associated Press and shared the Player of the Year award in the Southeast Conference while playing for coach Greg Leech. An extremely quick and aggressive player with the ball in his hands, Nelson averaged 11.3 ppg as a freshman at Pensacola Community College in Florida in 2018-19 and plans to play at Iowa Western Community College ... Mayew led Kenosha Tremper to the first conference championship in school history in 1991-92 by averaging 17.7 ppg. The Trojans went 16-6 under coach Saint Jimenez. As a senior, the athletic and muscular 6-foot-7 forward averaged 18.1 ppg and 9.9 rpg as Tremper again won the Big Nine Conference title. He earned Player of the Year honors in the league. The three-year starter helped Tremper to a combined 45-21 record during his prep career. Mayew went on to play four years at NCAA Division I North Carolina Wilmington, averaging 10.2 ppg and 5.4 as a captain during his senior year in 1996-97 ... Djurickovic earned honorable mention all-state laurels from the Associated Press after averaging 22.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a senior for Kenosha Bradford in 2006-07. The son of long-time Carthage College coach Bosko Djurickovic, Steve Djurickovic earned Southeast Conference Player of the Year honors in 2007 and helped Bradford to its first WIAA sectional appearance since 1989. He went on to star at Carthage and remains the school's all-time leading scorer with 2,547 points. The NCAA Division III Academic All-American now is an assistant coach under his father at Carthage ... Hahn is Shoreland Lutheran's all-time leading scorer. He averaged 17 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a senior for coach David Roehl and the Pacers in 1994-95 ... Kolar played three seasons of varsity basketball (1966-69) for coach Dick Versace at St. Joseph. Versace later served as the head coach of Bradley University and the NBA's Indiana Pacers. Kolar averaged 18.7 ppg as a senior in 1968-69, helping the Lancers to a 15-7 record. He scored a career-high 36 points in a 71-69 loss at Milwaukee Pio Nono on December 13, 1968. Kolar went on to play college basketball at UW-Parkside. 

Additional Notes: Kenosha Bradford's Larry Weiss earned unanimous first-team all-Big Eight Conference honors as a senior in 1963-64. Weiss averaged 14 ppg, scored 43 in a win over Beloit and was one of the top rebounders and defenders in the league. Bradford, despite 26 points from future Plymouth coach Bill Mikolyzk, dropped a 77-72 overtime decision to Racine Park in a regional final to end its season with a 19-1 record under coach Joe Brittelli. The next season, Kenosha Tremper fielded a varsity squad and several of the key returning players from Braford's team were suddenly split between two schools ... John Wojtak (6-5) was an athletic and strong forward for St. Joseph who averaged in double figures in 1964-65, 1965-66 and 1966-67. He scored 784 career points and helped the Lancers to their first victories ever -- after 19 straight losses -- over Racine St. Catherine's and a spot in the WCIAA State Tournament as a senior in 1967. He went on to score more than 1,000 points and still ranks as the No. 4 rebounder (831) in the history of the men's basketball program at North Dakota State ... Sean Mahone (6-1) played three years of varsity basketball at St. Joseph, earning first-team all-league honors in the Metro Conference on the Lancers' league-title team in 1984. He scored more than 800 points during his prep career and averaged 19.1 ppg as a senior when the Lancers won 16 games in a row. Mahone went on to play four seasons at NCAA Division II North Dakota State ... Tremper's Andy Schmidtmann played three years of varsity basketball for coach Saint Jimenez and averaged 16.0 ppg as a senior in 1985-86 when he shared Player of the Year honors in the Big Nine Conference with Racine Horlick's Robert Berryhill. Schmidtmann led Tremper to an 18-3 record and scored more than 800 points during his prep career. He went on to become one of the best players in UW-Parkside history ... St. Joseph guard Craig Campbell played alongside Al Steel and Sean Mahone on the Lancers' 1984-85 Metro Conference title team and scored 745 career points from 1982-84. The 5-foot-11 guard had a career-high 33 points in a double overtime loss to Milwaukee Pius XI and, like Schmidtmann, earned honorable mention all-state laurels from the Associated Press. Campbell went on to play four years for coach Ken Anderson at UW-Eau Claire ... Kenosha Tremper's Joel Sobanski (6-5) graduated in 2000 and averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a senior en route to Player of the Year laurels in the Southeast Conference. He went on to play college basketball at NCAA Division II Rockhurst ... In 2000-01 point guard Brandon Morris (6-1) played alongside David Tolefree in the backcourt at St. Joseph. He averaged 11.7 ppg as a senior, spent two seasons at Cowley Community College in Kansas and then started every game he played in two years at UW-Green Bay. Morris currently is the head coach at St. Joseph.

For the latest and most up to date boys' basketball news and recruiting information, follow Mark on Twitter @wisbbyearbook. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Mark by clicking here.

Tag(s): News Archive  News  Mark Miller