Nolan Minessale (left) broke the Marquette University High School scoring record in December, passing former record holder Damon Key (right) in December. (Photo courtesy of Marquette University High School)

For opposing coaches who had to figure out ways to stop Marquette University High School’s Nolan Minessale, it must have seemed like he was around forever.

In reality, Minessale practically has been.

Coming from a long family tradition at the all-boys Milwaukee school, Minessale took what his predecessors (father, uncle and older brother) did and took it to a whole new level.

In leading the Hilltoppers to their first WIAA state championship and the school’s first since it was part of WISAA in 1999, Minessale ended up as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,695 points. He passed former record holder and Marquette University standout Damon Key (1,226 points) during a Dec. 29 game against Pewaukee.

“He’s quiet, so he’s not necessarily that rah-rah leader, but he’s a leader by example,” MUHS coach Casey Kowalewski said. “He’s also the most humble, gracious person. You would never know by talking to him that he’s the school’s all-time leading scorer, he’s a two-time all-state player, two-time all-conference player. I think that level of humility and high character helped to keep us all levelheaded and grounded.”

Kowalewski, who graduated from MUHS in 1998, played with Minessale’s uncle Joe (1996 grad) and father, Mark, who was on the 1999 championship team.

Minessale said he can remember being around the program since his youngest days, including going to watch the Hilltoppers play in the 2015 state tournament.

“I was always playing basketball as a kid,” Minessale said. “We had a Little Tykes hoop in our living room, and I would always be playing (against) my brother. For as long as I can remember, basketball has been my dream.”

“Always and forever, he’s wanted to have a ball in his hand or be on the court doing something, watching basketball,” Joe Minessale said. “He’s loved it forever.”

The 6-foot-6 Minessale averaged 21.9 points for the season on 59 percent shooting from the field, using a strong frame, broad shoulders and a lightning-quick first step to consistently get into the paint and attack the basket. He capped his career with 24 points in the state semifinal game against Kettle Moraine and 29 against Arrowhead in the state finals.

According to his uncle, the one thing Minessale will need to work on before he takes his game to the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is his outside shooting. Minessale made 23 3-pointers on 72 attempts this season.

That shouldn’t be a problem for Nolan Minessale, who everyone describes as the proverbial gym rat.

“If there’s nothing going on, I’ll usually go to the gym and get some shots up,” he said.

Joe Minessale started the Junior Hilltoppers youth program when Nolan was in seventh grade and has run it ever since.

It was there that the seeds of a special player were germinating, but not many people expected Minessale to evolve into the player he became.

“It was very clear, even in middle school, that he was very talented, but it wasn’t until midway through his high school career where he made some huge jumps,” Joe Minessale said.

Kowalewski said he could see the talent in Nolan even in middle school, but that he needed to grow into his body.

“He kept working on his game constantly and kept getting better and better,” Kowalewski said.

After starting on the varsity team as a sophomore, Kowalewski saw the major leap in Nolan’s game as he entered his junior season.

“Last year, the jump that he made and what he was able to do on a consistent basis and knowing he was doing it against the best competition in the state, I absolutely saw that last year and this year he was one of the best players in the state, and I absolutely wouldn’t trade him for anyone,” Kowalewski said.

Basketball has long been a passion in the Minessale family, and Joe Minessale had the unique opportunity to work with his nephew, watch him grow and have a front-row seat when he and his classmates cut down the nets in Madison.

“There’s not a lot of people who have the opportunity to do something like that,” Joe Minessale said. “I loved every minute with it, to be able to see him grow — but all these young men — I got to know these guys back in fifth, sixth grade when I started to see them play, and we worked with that team a lot in those early years, and then to be part of their journey for four years of high school, it was truly a blessing.”