Better together

To Austin Arians, Jordan Johnson, Akeem Springs and Cody Wichmann:

I want to be clear up front – this is not a post telling you guys what to do. All of you have to make the best decision for your own life, and no one but you can make that choice – not a big fan like me, or your teammates, your coaches (current or former), your classmates or your families.

Whatever decision you make, my support for each of you remains steadfast and strong. You’ve given so much to this program over the years, you’ve earned every right to remain Milwaukee Panthers forever and always, no matter what jersey you wear next season (or in 2018, in the case of Jordy).

With that out of the way, let me make my pitch.

For yourselves and for your teammates, in my admittedly biased opinion, the best decision will be to remain on the East Side for the rest of your college careers.

I get the draw. The possibility of playing conference games at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, or Duke’s Cameron Indoor, or Michigan State’s Breslin Center is enticing. Wearing the jersey of a school you’ve recognized your entire life is a cool idea. The chance to play a higher level of competition to set up a pro career can be difficult to pass up.

I’m sure you’ve all been told by friends and family that you’re better than this place, that you belong at that level. And you do – I’m certain that each and every one of you would be able to play enough minutes at these high-majors that you can be safe in knowing your transfer year wouldn’t be a waste.

What I don’t want to do is spend a bunch of time bashing other schools. Yes, most of these reported schools aren’t competitive in their conferences. Yes, you may not get to play as much or be the focal point of the schools. But the truth is those are all programs with guys who work hard to make them better at good schools that are filled with good people just like Milwaukee, and it would be wrong to cut into people I don’t know just because I want you all to stay here.

On the court, the decision to stay should actually be a fairly easy one. The Horizon League is crumbling everywhere. Bryce Drew’s departure and the graduation of several key players (and possible departure of Alec Peters) knocks Valparaiso down a peg. Detroit and Wright State are in transition, with both losing key players on the court. Green Bay, who got the upper hand on us in a tough conference tournament game, is losing their best two players in Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse. Kahlil Felder signed with an agent and is gone from Oakland, as are graduating starters Percy Gibson and Max Hooper.

If most or all of you come back, we should be in contention for the conference title with a roster on the floor that is built around the strengths of the four senior scholarship players. That’s a pretty good look for a program that is in transition. But that’s not what I know.

This is what I know – what makes the Black and Gold special to you guys isn’t the circus-like fight song or the half-empty arena or the pep band that’s better than they get credit for. It’s not the close-quarters campus or the East Side bar district or the incredible summer weather. It’s not even the prospect of the Spring Prowl next year, fingers crossed.

What makes Milwaukee special to you is each other. Through all the crap that Amanda Braun has put this program through, you still have each other. This program is home to you because you have each other. There’s a reason that #ItsJustUs hashtag had so much meaning.

To you, the Black and Gold isn’t the Klotsche Center. It’s looking around at all the guys around you in that locker room and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that these are more than just teammates. They are your brothers, and you’ve been to hell and back with them. That bond is stronger than anything you will find by moving on this summer.

The smaller, cynical fan base at Milwaukee can make you feel like you’re on an island. But you’re on an island with each other. Keeping you out of the postseason this year and firing Rob Jeter are all on Amanda Braun. She’s a terrible athletic director, and no one felt the impact of her trashing this place more than you. You guys, who have given so much to this program, had to sit at home when you were absolutely worthy of playing in a postseason that was two years in the making – you had invites from all three for a reason, and you had nothing to do with the garbage that made us ineligible last year. She owed it to you, and she undercut you just so she could get rid of the coaching staff. To her, the ends justified the means, and your hard work got run over in the process.

I’ll tell you what, though: something great and wonderful came out of that. You always believed that #ItsJustUs hashtag was limited to the players, the coaching staff, and close supporters like DeeDee, another victim in this athletic director’s reign of terror. But if you take away anything from the last six weeks, it should be this:

There are a lot more people in #ItsJustUs than you ever believed before. The outpouring of support on social media and on campus was flat-out incredible. I’ve been here 11 years – I came in as a freshman right after Rob Jeter, Duffy Conroy and Chad Boudreau got on campus – and I can tell you that I’ve never seen something so uplifting as the support that fans showed you guys when Braun held you out of the postseason, or when she finally pulled the trigger on Rob’s tenure here. I’ve often said that I longed for the day that Jimmy Lemke would be just another fan, and I really felt that all the support of the past six weeks made that dream come true. I’m just one more guy that helped close ranks around you – you’re our guys and collectively we’ll do anything for you. Hell, I told one of you that I’d continue to root for you if you put on a Wisconsin Badgers jersey. That’s something I didn’t think I’d ever say.

I haven’t met LaVall Jordan yet, but the private conversations I’ve had with players so far have been great. You all unanimously think he’s a good guy, and hopefully he can lead the program into the future. People have pointed out how strikingly similar his resume is to Rob Jeter’s from 2005, and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence – I believe he’s every bit the high-character, strong leader Rob Jeter was for you guys.

I don’t get that from a gut feeling, or by looking at his resume. I get that from talking to coaches, former players of his, former teammates at Butler. There’s no better endorsement of character than the people who know you well. From what I gather, he’s exactly the kind of person Barry Collier envisioned when he built the Butler Way. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like someone I’d want watching over me in my formative college years.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that a lot of Rob Jeter’s past staff at Milwaukee was rooting for LaVall Jordan to succeed them. As one of them put it in a text message to me, “He’s one of us.” That’s all I need to know.

Just don’t make a decision based on Amanda Braun. Did she hire LaVall Jordan? Yes – Braun, the Search and Screen Committee, Parker Search and especially Mark Mone – made the call together that LaVall Jordan was the man for the job. Please don’t let that make him guilty by association. As far as Braun goes, I think you have pretty much the greatest motivation you can get walking into your senior season. Watch the movie Major League and you’ll pretty much see what I’m talking about – just, you know, don’t get a cardboard cutout or anything.

All of you have to make a decision for yourselves. The bright lights and big conferences definitely look good, but the reason everyone stayed together in the spring of 2014 wasn’t the prospect of winning big this season – it was because you cared for each other, your brothers in arms. You’ve got #ItsJustUs, and it’s a lot bigger than any of you or I ever believed.

No matter what each of you chooses to do – stay home or strike out on your own – I support you, and everyone who truly cares about this program supports you. I just want to get it out there that I think you’re better together, at home with the rest of us. Whether or not you stay, we all support you and will continue to do so. Just don’t forget what all of this – the Black and Gold, the East Side, the Milwaukee Panthers, this school, your brotherhood – means to you.



Jimmy Lemke


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