MILWAUKEE - On Wednesday night, the 7th Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards took over the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Fiserv Forum. ESPN's John Anderson served as the host and awards were given to the state's best high school, collegiate, and professional athletes. Here are the highlights:
Meet the Newlyweds
Early in the show, Anderson asked former Wisconsin basketball star Sam Dekker and ESPN's Olivia Harlan Dekker to join him for a quick edition of The Newlywed Game. Anderson proceeded to test the couple on just how well they knew each other with a few questions about Dekker's apparel around the house and how each would spend $100. (Sam would buy something for their dog. Olivia would spend it on shoes.)
After the game, Harlan Dekker grabbed the microphone from Anderson for a few interviews of her own, while Dekker took a seat, something he's rarely been able to do this summer. After their marriage on July 14, the newly married couple went on their honeymoon to Greece and Spain before Dekker found out he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Aug. 8.
"I'm so excited," Dekker said during the Wheels Up Blue Carpet Show. "Kind of a breath of fresh air - not saying anything bad about L.A. - the fit just wasn't what we expected or what we thought and this is a fresh start for the upcoming season."
Dekker played in 73 games for the Clippers last season, but didn't ever seem to get into a true rhythm and played just 12.1 minutes per game.
"Situation is a huge thing. Everyone in the NBA is a good player. I had two years in Houston, I thought that was a great situation. Coach D'Antoni made me grow up as a player in many ways. Now, I think there's a real opportunity for me in Cleveland to get back to being comfortable and get back to being me. I'm pumped for it. I can't wait to get started and just get to work."
Gold Medals in the Building
After Harlan-Dekker took over for Anderson as host for a moment, she had the opportunity to interview Olympian Matt Hamilton, who won a gold medal as a member of the USA Men's Curling team in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olumpic Games.
When asked about what an Olympic curling gold medalist does during the summer, Hamilton mentioned he has been playing a lot of beach volleyball, which has been better for his tan than his overall physique.
"It's been busy," Hamilton said. "Busier than any other summer. I haven't won an Olympics before, so this summer has been pretty chaotic. But it's been pretty fun."
Hamilton was not the only gold medalist in the building though and that second gold medalist took her turn on stage later in the evening. USA Women's Hockey and former University of Wisconsin goalie Alex Rigsby accepted the Wisconsin Sports Award for Moment of the Year on behalf of the UW women's hockey players that helped Team USA bring home the gold.
During the beginning of Rigsby's athletic career, she needed to play against boys in order to improve her game and get to the next level, but that didn't come without some naysayers. Packers reporter and co-host of Wilde and Tausch Jason Wilde asked her what message she might have for young girls, who might want to follow her lead and become an Olympic gold medalist.
"Dream big," Rigsby said. "It's been a dream of mine to represent Team USA at the Olympics for as long as I can remember and there's been a lot of people along the way that said I wouldn't be able to continue playing with the boys or make it to this part in my career. So, [you have] to be able to always believe in yourself and make sure you believe in yourself even when other people don't, I think that's really what will take you to the next level.
Brookfield Boy Returns Home
Recently retired Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas won the 2018 Wisconsin Sports Award for Homegrown Athlete of the Year. He accepted the award on stage with former Badger and Packer offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
Tauscher and Thomas discussed what might be next for the former Badgers offensive lineman and Brookfield Central product after he reportedly auditioning for a few television positions, but Thomas was quick to shut down those rumors before joking about coming for Tauscher's job.
"You know, I didn't get hired by any of those jobs I auditioned for, so I'm not exactly sure what's next for now," Thomas said. "Maybe if you have a slip and fall accident, I can come and join you on Wilde and Tausch."
Brewers Win Awards During Playoff Push
Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress impressed on the red carpet and in interviews during the 7th Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards in a blue pinstripe suit, but his teammate Jesus Aguilar and manager Craig Counsell were the ones to take home awards.
Aguilar won the Wisconsin Sports Award for Breakthrough Athlete of the Year and took to the stage for an interview with Fox Sports Wisconsin's Sophia Minnaert. The Brewers All-Star first baseman reflected on how he got to this moment before talking about how his team needed to keep pushing for the playoffs.
Aguilar also thanked the Brewers for giving him an opportunity, especially his manager, who came on the stage a few moments later with Fox Sports Wisconsin's Brian Anderson. While on stage with Anderson, Counsell echoed a sentiment similar to that of his first baseman.
"We've put ourselves in a great position," Counsell said. "If you love baseball and you love pennant races, we're in the middle of one. We're riding that rollercoaster every day. And there's ups and downs, but that's what we love about it."
As a former Brewers bat boy and Whitefish Bay high school student, Counsell knows what sports mean to those in the state of Wisconsin better than most and spoke about how much being the manager of his hometown team means to him and what it's like to be a Wisconsin sports fan.
"Being able to be in Wisconsin, growing up in Wisconsin, being an athlete from Wisconsin, and then taking the responsibility of the Milwaukee Brewers and helping them be great and entertain the fans of Wisconsin is a huge responsibility," Counsell said. "And I take it seriously every day."
"It's also a thrill to see athletes from Wisconsin and know that they're out there and know that they're succeeding. I think we all root for those guys just a little bit harder. I'm proud to be from Wisconsin. And I'm proud to have this responsibility."
The Group That Made It All Possible
The final award of the night, The Gamechanger Award, was given to the Milwaukee Bucks Ownership Group of Jamie Dinan, Wes Edens, and Marc Lasry. Dinan and Lasry joined Good Karma Brands CEO Craig Karmazin on the stage for a discussion about their time as owners after accepting the award.
"I think when you go in, you're initially thinking this is an investment," Dinan said. "That's my day job. I'm always thinking about investments, but really it's been fun. What you realize very early on - and Marc and I independently came to this conclusion in our first year of ownership - is we didn't actually buy the team."
"We don't really own the team. The fans own this team. The people of Wisconsin own this team. We're stewards. And I think once you realize you're a steward, the fun factor goes through the roof. And it's been terrific."
Lasry went on to explain what the ownership group wants is what the fans want: wins. They want to win a championship and think they can surprise some people because they already did it once in building the Fiserv Forum.
"I don't think anybody thought we'd be able to build this thing in four years," Lasry said. "And the only reason it got done was really because of the people of Milwaukee and the people in Wisconsin. For us, we're all in this together and hopefully we'll get there."
Complete Rundown of Award Winners:
High School Football Player of the Year: Jacob Heyroth, Lodi High School
Rick Majerus Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year: Jordan McCabe, Kaukauna High School
Goodwill Power of Work Girls High School Basketball Player of the Year: Shemera Williams, Milwaukee Academy of Science High School
High School Athlete of the Year, presented by Associated Bank: Lexi Romero, Brookfield Central High School (Gymnastics, Golf, Track & Field)
Marc Marotta College Athlete of the Year: Markus Howard, Marquette University Men’s Basketball
Professional Athlete of the Year, presented by Wisconsin Distributors: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Homegrown Athlete of the Year, presented by Cousins Subs: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, presented by Wheels Up: Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee Brewers
Moment of the Year, presented by Network Health: February 22, 2018 – Wisconsin women help bring home Gold for the US Women’s Hockey Team in the 2018 Olympics (Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Amanda Kessler, Hilary Knight, Alex Rigsby)
Individual Performance of the Year, presented by Wheels Up: Markus Howard (Marquette University Men’s Basketball) scores 52 points vs. Providence
Gruber Law Offices “One Call That’s All” Coach of the Year: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
ATI Athlete of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
American Family Insurance Dream Team of the Year: Milwaukee Brewers
Fiduciary Management Gamechanger Award: Milwaukee Bucks Owners: Jamie Dinan, Wes Edens, Marc Lasry
Community Involved Person of the Year: Connie Watt, Vice President of the JJ Watt Foundation
Inspirational Athlete of the Year, presented by Husch Blackwell: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks