No one can say how long it has been. Websites for local prep sports are spotty when it comes to researching past teams and seasons. Just a couple of years is an eternity as it pertains to high school sports.
No one can say how long it’s been since the Madison East Purgolders were this dominant. Since they were this talented and this hungry. What one can say for sure is that none of the kids on East’s varsity roster right now are old enough to remember any glory years of East past.
But on Friday night those kids will travel across city lines to face struggling Madison West High (5-9) in a battle of rivals. West has had a few noteworthy seasons in recent memory. Enough success that, despite the fact that East is undefeated, favored, and ranked number one in the state, it feels more like East is the hungry underdog who should just want it more.
The game against West on Friday night will set the mood for East. Rivalry week is just around the corner. On January 26, East will play James Madison Memorial (9-2), the team that has been the bane of East’s existence for over a decade.
Wins against both teams should put the 14-0 Purgolders firmly in the driver’s seat in the Big Eight Conference. The Purgolders are currently 10-0 in conference play with some opponents ahead that they should be in good shape to defeat.
Yet no one on the East roster is allowed to think about what lies ahead.
“Our goal is winning one game at a time,” Assistant Coach Chris Davis told Madison365. “The ultimate goal is to get to State. But we have to win our conference first. Like we preach to our kids, you gotta take one moment at a time. Then we’ll set our goals after that.”
Davis understands the value of going one rung at a time when climbing the ladder. He has climbed it himself.
Chris Davis is arguably the greatest player ever to take the court for the Madison College Wolfpack. During his two seasons there, the Wolfpack went deep in the national tournament. They played in the national championship game in 2009. Davis averaged over 21 points per game in both of his seasons with the Wolfpack after playing for Madison East himself.
“Yeah, those were some dominant years,” Davis says, laughing. “We definitely dominated!” Davis says before talking about how dominance by this year’s East team will have a ripple effect in the program moving forward.
“The next five, ten years we’re gonna be at the top of the conference,” Davis said. “The younger generation is coming up. They’re on the rise. This might be the year East gets on the map.”
The younger generation has come up already and they have witnesses. Three weeks ago at Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton, East junior Anthony Washington strode casually on to the court for a pickup game. His team, comprised of a mix of high school and college kids, took on a typical collection of guys from all walks of life. That is the essence of pickup basketball. But Harbor is typically home to a much older, much heavier, much — well — whiter group of players.
At one juncture, Washington’s team got a steal. A player on his team drove down the lane at breakneck speed before coming to a screeching halt. He laid the ball off the top of the backboard. Everyone standing around the court either stood up or stopped what they were doing. The ball bounced hard off the glass, a good 14 feet in the air, and into the hands of Anthony Washington who was suddenly and violently airborne.
The 6’3” Washington had his shoulders at the rim. He slammed the ball home with two hands and hung on the rim. People at the front desk and sitting in the lobby said they heard it. And they heard the explosion of noise that followed it from everyone who was there. At Harbor, the average pickup player could maybe touch the net. A dunk like this? Unheard of. It was like seeing the burning bush in the wilderness.
Chris Davis laughed out loud again when he heard that story.
“Yeah, we got a bunch of kids that are up-and-coming. Anthony Washington, Keonte Jones, Jevan Boyton, Damonte Thompson, Marcus Justice,” he said. “We have a strong starting five. They’re all juniors and Jevan is a sophomore. Mike Mcintosh and David McKinley play big minutes for us too. Right now our two leading scorers are Thompson and Washington. But Jones can guard anyone in the conference. We have a collective good bunch.”
East’s winning streak has galvanized the community. Davis said that at the start of the year, East didn’t have many fans at the games. But now people have recognized what they’ve got going on.
“The feeling is great because I’m an East alum,” Davis said. “Anytime we can get the east side to the highest point where we’re at right now it’s great. Because a lot of these kids have watched East struggle for years.”
The games against Madison West and Madison Memorial are must-win games against traditional rivals. But even if East wins, they will have little time for celebration. In February, East will stare down two more bitter rivals, Sun Prairie (9-5) on Feb. 9 and Madison LaFollette (12-3) on Feb. 15.
Getting through the next month will be tough but on the other side of it will be the state tournament. A tournament East is determined to be part of.
“We were picked to finish fifth in the conference,” Davis said. “That’s a slap in the face. Our kids came out to prove themselves this year. They got the community on their side. It’s been great for the community. I don’t even know when the last time East was this good.”