Germantown boys basketball coach Steve Showalter has heard and read the words "suspension" and "drug possession" far too many times in the last two months.
They have prefaced and colored everything his two-time WIAA state champions have done during that time, as players Lamonte and Brian Bearden, Dearionte Hudson and Lamont Christian served suspensions after being cited for marijuana possession Jan. 23 and then returned to the team.
The quartet has since helped the Warhawks win their seventh North Shore Conference title in eight years and a third straight WIAA State Tournament berth, their fifth in the last eight years.
But there was still a need to blow off some steam.
"We normally do something (fun) like that in January," he said, "but our schedule has just been so crazy and hectic, there hasn't been a chance. We've just been busting our butts, so we had to go out and do something fun. We really needed to have some fun again.
"So just before (WIAA) regionals we told them to be ready for some hard work in the gym. Told them that they needed to pack their bags and tell their parents sorry that, I apologize, but they're not going to see you until 8 or 9 p.m. tomorrow. They were told to be ready to go hard.
"Then we got to school, got in a school van, went to Waukesha and played laser tag for several hours."
It was a badly needed release of tension to say the least, because the transition back into good team standing for the four has not always been easy. There had to be a discussion about the traffic stop, about the win streak, about the two losses that ended the streak, about everything that's gone on this season.
"At the height of the mess, after a hard game, I turned to my assistant, Aaron (Womack)," Showalter said. "Aaron is a really good teacher at the Milwaukee School of Languages, and he's taught and coached at other places, too.
"He brought the guys into a circle and said to them, 'Do you have any idea what it is to be like 90 percent of the players in this state who are just happy to win a game? How hard that is? You guys have no idea what it means to be in this program. People who laid the groundwork (like Ben Averkamp, Zak Showalter and Josh Mongan) are gone, and you are guys who have inherited it!
"After that, there was a lot of apologizing, even some tears. A lot of people were not happy. A lot of people were willing to say if we see some changes and hear some good ideas that they'd be able to move on. Forgiving was the biggest part of this.
"... Because it would be easy to say that they're the bad kids (the four), but really, one through 15, we have really good kids who do get along. ... but even some of the so-called good kids were super (mad). The rest learned to accept and forgive, move on, because it's not just about basketball, it's about growing up and acting like men and getting on with the day."
In short, admit that you live in a pressure cooker of success and learn to deal with it.
So the two-time champs will go for a third at full-strength following arguably their hardest road yet. They will put their 16-game WIAA state tournament winning streak on the line against King on Friday (see separate preview). They will practice hard this week, trying to work as one toward a common goal as Showalter reminds them of something else another assistant told him.
"Louie (Jim Lawinger) told me that the Sunday after sectional finals (which was this past Sunday) was always the highlight of the season, always huge," Showalter said. "He said it's the best feeling because of all the hard work you've done to get to this point.
"You try not to think about what's in front of you for a bit, but you know you have a week of no sleep ahead of you (getting ready for state). You want to enjoy it for just that little bit before you start looking at film, before you dive into a world of work."
Because in the case of the Warhawks, a lot of work, physically, mentally and emotionally, already has been done.
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