116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MONTICELLO — It stinks that they couldn't win a game. Just one game.
But the Monticello Panthers have no regrets about the last couple of seasons. None.
They were a part of the state's Big Dance, a qualifier for the boys' state basketball tournament last season and this season. It was the school's first trips to Des Moines since 1960.
Watershed moments for a program that always has been good under Coach Tim Lambert but could just never seem to get over that stereotypical hump. The hump now has been conquered: last season in Class 2A and this season in 3A.
Monticello lost its state tourney quarterfinal games both years, but don't let that diminish all that has been accomplished. They're not.
'You didn't want to go down there, obviously, and lose, but what they've done the last several years has been pretty amazing stuff,' Lambert said. 'They are equally as good of kids off the court as they are on. I've just really tried to reflect on how proud we are of them. It's like my wife said afterwards, don't be sad that it's over, be glad it happened.'
And look forward to it happening again.
Lambert has Monticello in a good place right now. A great senior class that included all-stater Justin Recker, the coach's son, Luke, his nephew, Connor and fellow multiple-year starter Ty Kehoe will depart, but the Panthers JV team was good this season.
Kids in the community are playing in the spring and summer more than they ever have. Basketball is important in this Jones County community.
Lambert gets a ton of credit for that. He's The Gazette's 2020-21 area coach of the year.
Montezuma senior guard Trey Shearer, a three-time first-team all-state guard, is player of the year.
'Success breeds success,' Lambert said. 'I think these younger kids have just really fallen in love with what we've done these last few years ... There is a lot of momentum in our program right now, and it's our job to keep it going.'
Lambert grew up in the Delhi area and played basketball for Hall of Fame Coach Gordy Rundquist at Maquoketa Valley. Without people like Rundquist and his wife, Sherry, he says life would have been much different for himself and his brother, Todd, a longtime assistant coach for him at Monti.
He means in a not-good way.
'My parents were divorced, a pretty unique childhood growing up,' Lambert said. 'Gordy Rundquist and his wife, Sherry ... (Teammate) Bruce Wall's parents were also great to my brother and I growing up. We're probably the poster children for it takes a village to raise a child. I wouldn't be where I'm at today without those people. Gordy was amazing to me.
'We knew he cared about us ... You'd do anything for him. Even to this day, Gordy is my guy. A huge, huge influence on me.'
Lambert graduated from Northern Iowa, took an initial job at a parochial school in Dubuque and then got a teaching position at Monticello in 1998. He was junior varsity girls' coach at the school his first winter, then applied for and was given the varsity boys' position the following year.
The Panthers were 0-20 in his first go-around.
'A lot of great kids on that first team,' Lambert said. 'Probably not doing as much in the offseason as we do now. They hadn't been doing the team camps and the open gyms. So when I first took over, our skill wasn't where it needed to be. We just worked hard, and within five years, we won 20 games.'
Lambert is 303-185 in 22 years at Monticello. As he said earlier, he anticipates the success will continue.
It's difficult to bet against him and his program at this point.
'I think we'll be in a pretty good place for a lot of years to come,' he said.
Player of the Year Shearer helped Montezuma win the 1A state championship last week, the school's third title. A four-year starter, he was named captain of the 1A all-tournament team and the overall state tournament MVP by the Iowa High School Sports Network.
Shearer scored 2,299 points in his career, leading Monte to state the past three seasons. The Braves placed fourth in 2019 and third last year.
An ultra-quick player with no fear and good shooting ability, he'll play college basketball for former University of Iowa star guard Jeff Horner at Division II Truman State in Missouri.
2020-21 Gazette all-area boys' basketball team
Taurice Grant, 5-11, jr., Meskwaki — Senior guard is his school's first all-state player. Third-teamer in Class 1A last season and second team this season. Helped Warriors to substate final game, averaging 17.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.2 steals per game. That was despite playing with an injury incurred during football season.
Austin Hilmer, 5-10, jr., North Linn — Averaged 17.3 points and 7.7 assists for North Linn, which finished 27-1 and lost to Montezuma in the Class 1A state championship game. First-team all-state guard by the IPSWA. Was named to 1A all-tournament team. Committed to Upper Iowa.
Dylan Johnson, 6-6, sr., Western Dubuque — Played a large part in WD's best season since joining the Missississippi Valley Conference. Bobcats qualified for the state tournament in 3A. Third-team all-state selection has good inside-outside game. Averaged 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds. Shot 43 percent from 3-point range, making 54. Will play at Morningside.
Kyle Kelley, 6-4, sr., West Delaware — Second-team all-state in 3A. Rare four-year starter at bigger-school level. Averaged 20.1 points per game this season.
Alex Koppes, 6-0, sr., Springville — His school's all-time leading scorer. Averaged 19.8 points and 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.6 steals per game for an Orioles team that went 42-9 the last two seasons. First-team all-stater in 1A. Will play college ball at University of Dubuque.
Keaton Kutcher, 6-2, sr., Mount Vernon — Has signed with D-I South Dakota. Four-year varsity player and terrific shooter. Mount Vernon's all-time leading scorer. Averaged 21.8 points this season. First-team all-state pick in Class 3A.
Peter Moe, 6-9, jr., Iowa City West — West only played 13 games because of mutliple COVID-19 breaks, but the son of former Iowa Hawkeye guard Jeff Moe made his presence felt. Averaged 21.9 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. Shot 81 percent from the free-throw line and 39 percent from 3-point range. Third-team all-state pick in 4A.
Justin Recker, 6-6, sr., Monticello — Averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for Monticello, which qualified for back-to-back state tournaments. That included a bump up this season from Class 2A to 3A. Shot 56.6 percent from the field. First-team all-state selection. Expected to play for Kirkwood Community College.
Caleb Schlaak, 6-7, sr., Cedar Rapids Kennedy — Second-team all-state selection in Class 4A. Averaged 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds for a Kennedy team that lost in overtime to eventual state runner-up Johnson in a 4A substate final. Also blocked 3.4 shots per game. Played parts of four seasons on varsity. Will play for former University of Iowa star guard Jeff Horner at Division II Truman State in Missouri.
Trey Shearer, 5-10, sr., Montezuma — Finished one point shy of 2,300 in his exquisite four-year career. Helped lead Montezuma to the Class 1A state championship, as the Braves knocked off the top three seeded teams (No. 2 Lake Mills, No. 3 Grand View Christian and No. 1 North Linn in that order). Averaged 24.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.5 steals. Will play at Truman State. Three-time first-team all-stater.
Quincy Underwood, 6-5, sr., Cedar Rapids Washington — Named to the first team of the All-Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division team. Catalyst for turnaround season for the Warriors, who went from four to 14 wins. Averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. Will play college ball at Mount Mercy.
Christian Withrow, 6-2, sr., Clear Creek Amana — Second-team all-state guard. Averaged 19.1 points and shot 55.2 percent from the field. Led Clippers in scoring last season en route to a third-place finish in Class 3A at the state tournament.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Trey Shearer, sr., Montezuma
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tim Lambert, Monticello