Jack Miller has a track record of turning around athletic programs.
Miller, who has elevated the high school’s softball program into one of the area’s best, took over the school’s girls basketball program in 2002 and helped give it life after it appeared to be left for dead.
And though the boys hoops program wasn’t facing as dire a situation, Miller has been called upon to pull the school back up to a level of respectability. The team went 5-19 last winter under Jim Nowak, who resigned early in the season because of health reasons, and interim coach Ed Mermolia.
The program won just six games the year before and has not had a winning season since 2006-07.
Though he last coached boys basketball in 1989, coaching boys is not a foreign task for Miller, who up until last school year coached 19 years of football, including 17 with Greenfield, at various levels. In fact, his first coaching job out of college was as head freshman boys basketball coach with St. Catherine’s in Racine, where he coached Marquette University star Jim McIlvaine.
"Basketball was really my first love and my first job when I got into coaching almost 25 years ago,” Miller said. “A year ago, I really did not have any intention of getting back into basketball. … But I thought about how it’d be nice to get back to coaching boys and threw my name in the hat.”
The team is off to an 0-6 start and has been faced with several persistent challenges, not unlike those Miller faced when he took over the girls program.
For starters, the varsity team has only 11 players. Some players Miller was counting on returning chose not play this winter.
One player that did return, Ricky Santiago, the team’s leading scorer the last two seasons, missed time with a knee injury before being handed a four-game suspension for an athletic code violation. He is not expected to return until mid-January, according to Miller.
Most of the team’s starters, including Ryan Manzuk, Nick Jablonski, Riverside transfer Sonnie Wilbert and sophomore Josh Czerwinski, have little to no varsity playing experience.
And the team is completely devoid of height with its tallest player coming in at 6-feet, 1-inch. That has forced the Hustlin’ Hawks to rely heavily on its perimeter game and though they are only shooting around 25 percent from the floor this season, they did make 9 of 18 3-pointers in a 55-54 loss to South Milwaukee on Dec. 13, Greenfield’s best game of young season.
“I knew it was a tough situation, but I’ve always enjoyed challenges,” Miller said. “I’m hoping we can make as many strides with the boys program as we did with the girls program.
“We’re presenting a new mindset, a new program, not just physically but mentally as well. We had to weed out people who didn’t want to make a full commitment.”