CEDAR RAPIDS — All things being equal, it’s better to have seniors.
About every basketball coach will tell you that. Dustin Peska is among them.
The first-year head coach has his South Tama Trojans off to a 6-2 start as the holiday break comes. That includes a flawless 5-0 mark in the Wamac Conference’s West Division.
You ask Peska the reasons for this success, and he boils it down to mainly one thing: having eight seniors on his 13-player squad.
“Seniors help everything,” Peska said. “It’s been just the abiity of this team to stay together. They’re working as one, there is no ‘I,’ there is no ‘Me.’ They understand the game and what it takes, that everybody needs to help and contribute. Just their effort. They don’t ever give up. You don’t know if they’re up 10 or down 10. They keep fighting, they keep playing hard. Their will and desire, they know what it takes to win.
“A lot of that comes from the senior players. They’ve been through the fire before, been through the wars.”
South Tama actually lost two of its first three games but takes a five-game win streak into the new year. Four of the Trojans’ wins have been by six points or less, including a 67-65, double-overtime victory over Center Point-Urbana.
That goes back to having experienced seniors.
Seven of the eight guys in the playing rotation are seniors. The exception might be ST’s best player: junior center Keith Keahna.
Keahna averages 11.1 points and 8.0 rebounds.
“He’s 6-foot-5 and can jump out of the gym,” Peska said. “You get the ball to him near the rim, and he finishes.”
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Sterling Tyon (13.1 ppg) and Gabe Shields (12.3) lead a balanced Trojans scoring attack, part of a three-guard lineup that also includes Kaiden Buffalo (9.5 ppg). Interestingly, none of those guys are true point guards, according to Peska.
They rotate the duties of bringing the ball up the floor and getting the half-court offense going.
“That’s kind of how our mindset is,” Peska said.
Forward Justus Ward is the other starter, with Lane Koch and and Shae Betz the main interior players off the bench. On the guard side, Nathan Lasley is the primary reserve.
South Tama sort of runs the gauntlet the first week back after break, playing a cross-division Wamac game against West Delaware, then meeting good West Division teams from Marion and Benton Community. All three are at home.
“You’ve got to keep the kids hungry, keep them on their toes,” Peska said. “You cannot let them get comfortable. That’s what I know as a coach. Don’t let the kids be satisfied going into the break.”
With things coming to a week-long halt after Saturday’s Solon-Keokuk game, it’s interesting to note that there were 26 undefeated teams going into Thursday. That included just two in Class 4A: Iowa City West and Dubuque Senior. Class 2A had the most with 12, with 1A and 3A having six apiece.
HILMER IS HOOPING
Tremendous junior guard Jake Hilmer had a 45-point game last week for North Linn, following it up with a 17-assist game. The point total is second best in a game this season to Waterloo West’s Carondis Harris-Anderson, who put up 50 in a win over rival Waterloo East. The 17 assists ties for the best in a game this season, with Norwalk’s Luke Vaske. North Linn, ranked second in Class 1A, had back-to-back wins of 115-31 over Cedar Valley Christian and 105-8 over Midland.