MUSCATINE — Recruits like Joe Wieskamp don’t come from Muscatine. The river town in southeast Iowa doesn’t have a long tradition of producing professional or a ton of Division I college athletes.
If we’re being honest, most places in the country don’t produce recruits like Joe Wieskamp, so all the more reason that the town of 23,914 is so proud of a kid who chose to stick around — so proud of a kid who’s only going 45 minutes northwest to play college basketball for Iowa.
Wieskamp signed his national letter of intent Wednesday morning in the Muscatine High School auditorium, in front of his best friends and family, and alongside his parents Steve and Dana. The nation’s No. 42-ranked recruit in the class of 2018 — the No. 7-ranked shooting guard — officially became a Hawkeye.
The people in the auditorium were proud, but so were people outside. His math teacher, Gabe McDonald, championed Wieskamp’s character and who he is off the court. The cashier at Casey’s who didn’t want her name in the paper, but said, “that boy is gonna be good.” Sharon at the Hardee’s drive-thru window, who said, “it’s good to see somebody from here make it.”
All you have to do to confirm that is wait a few weeks and check out Muscatine vs. Dubuque Hempstead on Nov. 28.
“I would say the best way to answer that question is, look at the attendance at basketball games,” said McDonald, who also coaches the Muscatine boys’ freshmen team, which never included Wieskamp. “It isn’t just people from Muscatine. People from surrounding communities are coming to games.”
Wieskamp is an understated kid. Even as he signed his NLI, it took a chorus of cheers from his group of friends sitting in the auditorium seats to make him crack a smile.
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He said Wednesday it’s never really been much of a thought to stay within himself and to appreciate his growth as a basketball player. Some people have a natural ability to tune out whatever noise is around them and not let it affect how they approach things. Those around Wieskamp said Wednesday said he’s the epitome of that type of tunnel vision. His parents smiled and said they weren’t sure where that comes from.
The amount of attention he’s received in the two years would have been enough to shake anyone, much less a teenager. Steve and Dana Wieskamp both gave a quick laugh when asked about that.
How does this kid, with so much ability, handle all the letters, the calls, the messages and the recruiters — both locally and nationally — off the court while so deftly handling the defenders on it?
“It started so early for us that we weren’t maybe prepared for it, but obviously it was very exciting and we’re proud of him,” Dana said. “I sometimes ask him how it makes him feel. He’s just like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ To me, I’d feel self-conscious that so many people are looking at me. He seems to handle it really well. It’s great to see the gym filling up on Friday nights and people rallying behind him and wanting the best for him and the Muscatine community.”
Wieskamp is a talent Hawkeye fans have salivated over for a while.
He finished his junior season as Iowa’s Gatorade Player of the Year — something that’s rare for a junior — after scoring 30.4 points and grabbing 10.2 rebounds per game. The Muskies went 15-7 and lost to Iowa City West at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, a game away from making the state tournament.
Wieskamp and his team lost to two future teammates that night in Connor and Patrick McCaffery. Sandwiched between both of them in the Iowa Barnstormers AAU program, Wieskamp has known the McCafferys — and their dad, his next coach — for a long time.
The McCaffery boys, playing at 4A power Iowa City West, know what it’s like to play for a program that has multiple state title banners in the gym. It would’ve been pretty easy, honestly, for Wieskamp to chase a situation like that before he left to play for Fran and with Connor.
Rumors about prep schools, academies or even other high schools in Iowa swirled for a while, because, the at-large opinions said, why would such a talented player risk getting lost playing for relative-unknown Muscatine?
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Both Steve and Dana got a little fired up when that got brought up. It was frustrating for them. Dana said “it wasn’t anything we ever even considered.” They wanted their son with them, have a tight-knit family and wanted him to have his friends around, they said.
“At the end of the day, a lot of my friends are here, close to home, and the support system I have, you can’t beat it,” Wieskamp said. “The community has shown a lot of support for me. You can tell by how many people show up to our games. To have that support is so great.
“(Iowa football player) Drake Kulick got it started and I feel like I’m kind of the next guy to bring Muscatine as more than just a small river town and build up our community.”
Wieskamp stayed, of course. He’ll face opponents’ best defenders once again this year and Muscatine boys coach Gary Belger will do his best to get the most out of the star player’s final season at home.
The pride in that auditorium and the pride around town won’t soon fade, they all said. After all, Iowa City is just a ride through Nichols, Lone Tree and Riverside away. When Wieskamp is introduced as a starter for the Hawkeyes — it’ll happen sooner than later — it won’t be some prep academy the announcer reads out as where he’s from. It’ll be Muscatine.
The proudest in the room and in town, without question, were the two beside Wieskamp when he signed his name. Their hugs, smiles and pictures all were a little bittersweet, though.
“He’s steady, he’s even-keel, he knows what he wants and he follows his heart,” Steve said. “When you have kids, they grow up way too fast. You think, ‘It was just a couple years ago he started school. I just started coaching him in third grade and he’s almost done here?’ It’s a little tough. But we’re so proud.”
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