Conference Championship Secret Ingredient? A Senior Named Emmons

In the final seconds of St. Thomas More’s 75-58 victory over Kenosha St. Joseph Academy, Ryan Emmons (TM ’02) had one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

Twenty years earlier, Ryan had been a key contributor on the 2002 Woodland Conference Champion boys’ basketball team at Thomas More, the last boys’ basketball team to win a conference championship for STM. On this night, however, Ryan was in the stands watching the Cavaliers clinch their first Conference Championship in two decades. In the middle of it all, wearing number 14, was Ryan’s son, Ethan.

“That was the best feeling ever; I was on cloud nine. I think I got maybe three hours of sleep that night,” Ryan said. “The joy I saw him experience is everything you hope for as a father.”

Ethan, a senior and the team’s captain, recognized the significance of this moment. “My teammates knew that the last time we won conference was my dad’s senior year, so they came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ As the clock wound down, I was thinking of him on the court 20 years ago, and that was really cool.”

Ryan and Ethan after the win against St. Joe’s

“I don’t think of the basketball as much,” said Ryan, reflecting on the 2002 team. “Our team was more than basketball; we were brothers.” After claiming the Woodland Conference title in 2001, the Cavaliers faced some questions. Conference player of the year Jon Dekker had graduated, along with two other starters and the first two players off the bench, so the 2002 season would bring a largely new supporting cast in around star seniors Anthony Mlachnik and Kyle Knipple. Ryan and fellow seniors Jason Brindowski and Dave Koszuta stepped into the starting lineup and helped lead the team to a second consecutive title.

2002 Conference Championship Basketball Team

“Whether it was playing for Thomas More or playing for our class in the Alumni Basketball Tournament over the years, we have always understood our roles and played them very well. If one guy had an off night, someone was able to step up and pick that guy up,” Ryan said of his class of 2002 teammates, who have won six Alumni Basketball Tournaments since their graduation 20 years ago.

At those Alumni Basketball Tournaments, Ethan became familiar with his dad’s teammates and learned about their success. He began playing for Anthony Mlachnik’s Wisconsin RAP AAU basketball program in third grade and soon after was attending summer basketball camps at STM where he first got to know Coach John Hoch (TM ’87). “Coach Hoch would pull me aside sometimes and tell me that I reminded him of my dad,” Ethan said. “When I was a sophomore and junior on varsity, Coach would talk to us about how our STM basketball program is not just about building a winning basketball team but about building better men. He would use my dad as an example.”

“I had the pleasure of being Ryan’s JV coach and an assistant on Coach Pat Ross’ staff for the 2002 team that won the Woodland Conference championship,” Hoch recalled. “Now, in the twilight of my career, I have the honor of coaching Ethan, the captain of our Metro Classic Conference champion team. Ryan was a ‘big man,’ and Ethan is a guard, but they both share traits necessary on championship teams: they’re ‘blue-collar’ guys who get after it and leave everything on the court. Both are great teammates and extremely coachable. Having such a positive experience coaching both a father and his son is one of the highlights of my career.”

Ryan and Ethan’s senior pictures 

Ethan’s leadership has been irreplaceable for a young team with only four seniors. “Coming into this year, we had a lot of talent, but we weren’t really expected to be competing for conference,” Ethan said. “We were inconsistent in summer and fall games; I knew it would come down to team chemistry. It clicked for us at the Dominican game; we knew it would be a statement to win at their place, and that win put us on the map. We know how to put our best foot forward now; the only team that can stop us is us.”

2022 Conference Championship Basketball Team

Ethan leads a young team with big aspirations for a long playoff run. Though Ryan’s team was senior-laden, he sees parallels between his team and his son’s. “They have the same toughness and grit and will to win that we did.”

Come Thanksgiving, it will be time for another Alumni Basketball Tournament, but this time, both father and son will have teams in the tournament. “My class is highly competitive, and we decided years ago that we wouldn’t stop playing until we got a chance to play against Ethan’s class,” Ryan said. Ethan suggested that his dad may have to guard him, but Ryan was not so sure. “I’m probably not going to guard him; I can’t have him make me look silly. But I know it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

About the Author
Dan Steffes (TM ’03) is the Development & Alumni Director at STM. He has worked at St. Thomas More since July 2007 and has been head track & field coach since 2009.

1 comment

  1. a message to Milwaukee Saint thomas more Boys Basketball Team in appearing in the State Championship game last weekend.

    You won your Semi-Final Game however it was not to be for your Title Game. I wonder if the coaches of Fond du Lac saint mary’s springs catholic academy would go for a Basketball Matchup with you next season. Springs is between 200 and 300 students. Maybe a home and home series. 1 in milwaukee and 1 in Fond du Lac. It would be fun.

    Randall Scott Redman

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