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Preps Alcove

Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.

Breunig, St. John's a local curiosity

Pictured: Martin Breunig will be a key component of the first-year St. John's post-graduate program.

The workers arrived this week to install shot clocks above the backboards, and a second three-point line – indicating the proper college distance – is just temporary white tape until permanent purple lines are drawn on the wooden floor. Those are the subtle changes in a gymnasium that will play host to a wildly different brand of basketball this year.

Never before has Lake Countrybeen home to a program of this nature, the St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy post-graduate basketball program, which has attracted talent from all over the country and beyond. The one-year program, spearheaded by former varsity coach Brian Richert, will offer a bridge between high school and upper-level NCAA participation.

For players needing some last-ditch academic qualifications, or those looking to upgrade their status athletically, the post-grad program represents a land of opportunity.

The journey begins this weekend, when St. John’s competes in the Iowa Community College Jamboree. Richert hopes to have a plethora of home games on the schedule, beginning no later than Nov. 13 when the program hosts Brehm Prep.

Perhaps one of the most interesting components of the new team is Leverkusen, Germany native Martin Breunig, a 6-foot-9 wing player who averaged 14.5 and 9.3 rebounds for his German team last year while shooting 59 percent from the field. He competed in the U18 national team in the FIBA European Championships in Lithuania and has been considered by many high-Division 1 programs, including Marquette.

"Basketball wise, he’s far beyond fundamentally sound," Richert said. "In international and Europe basketball, it’s all fundamentals from day one. The one-on-one skills and all that stuff is never really taught over there. It’s all about team and fundamentals. So he’s far advanced fundamentally, more than any player I’ve seen out there.

"At the next level, he’s going to have to learn to go from fundamental to skill. Guarding someone in Europe is a 6-foot-5 kid that can shoot it. You just get your hands up (on defense). At this level, you go the Big East, they’re going to go right around you like you’re standing still. He’s going to have to adapt to the speed of the game and mental toughness."

Breunig had never been to America before arriving at St. John’s, meaning the shock of transitioning to life at a military academy went beyond what most experience.

"It’s exciting, and it’s a good feeling that someone wants to see you play," said Breunig, who speaks very solid English. "Sometimes it’s challenging, but I like it here."

Breunig’s father was scheduled to fly in to visit with his son this week, and the family has kept in touch through Facebook and Skype. Breunig first learned of the St. John’s opportunity through the program’s international scout, Martin Esters, a fellow German who started for Richert’s state-qualifying St. John’s team in 2006, a team led by future Wisconsin Badgers guard Trevon Hughes.

"Martin Esters was by far the main ingredient for (Breunig) to be here," Richert said. "My role is to be his coach, but I did not bring him here, Martin did. Martin played for me and understands how tough I am on my kids but also knows I’ll go to war for these kids."

Esters also brought in Franz Winkler, another German who never played with Breunig before St. John’s.

"Working out with Martin is exhausting, but it’s a good thing," Breunig said. "He’s a good coach and has a lot of experience and he’s young."

The team’s international reach also extends to Nigeria with the arrival of 6-10 center Ude Ifeanyichukwu. Stateside, the program has brought in players such as McDonald’s All-American Game nominee Brandon Mobley of Georgia and Illinois first team All-State player Lawrence Alexander.

The doors at Farrand Hall have been opening for many college coaches to come take a peek.

"There are 32 Division 1 coaches that have already been here," Richert said. "I don’t know how many programs around here can say that."


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