Prep Basketball

Boys' basketball notes: Alburnett feels it has a quality team despite losing top returner

Last year's Class 1A runner-up playing without Hunter Caves, who tore ACL in football

Alburnett's Shane Neighbor (40) dribbles the ball during last year's Class 1A boys' basketball state championship game.
Alburnett's Shane Neighbor (40) dribbles the ball during last year's Class 1A boys' basketball state championship game. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There’s momentum. There almost has to be after the best season in school history, right?

“We had kids that wanted to be in the gym the next Monday after we got back from the state tournament,” Alburnett boys’ basketball coach Jeff Christopherson said. “They were coming in before school, getting into the gym, turning the lights on and shooting baskets. Things like that.”

Alburnett qualified for state for the very first time in 2018-19 and won two thrillers before falling to Grand View Christian in the Class 1A title game. It was a season never to forget.

“Everybody played together so well. We were like one unit,” Christopherson said. “I think everybody read each other’s minds so well. We knew what we were going to do. Once we got a little momentum, everybody increased their level of play.”

It was supposed to be another really good Pirates team this season, too, and it very well might turn out to be. Alburnett is 3-0 as it goes into its game Friday night at Lisbon.

But there has had to be some adjusting on the fly.

Center and leading scorer Izic Mackey graduated, as did glue guy Jared Graubard. That was anticipated.

What wasn’t was junior guard Hunter Caves tearing the ACL in his knee early in the football season this past fall. Caves was Alburnett’s top returning player, a guy the team was going to be built around offensively.

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Caves still goes to practice every day and shoots around a bit. He even tried to coax Christopherson into letting him dress for a game, in case a free throw needed to be made late.

That’s not happening.

“Obviously, it is very difficult to overcome losing a kid like Hunter,” Christopherson said. “We aren’t going to be able to do that. So we have got to find other ways offensively that fit our personnel. I think we’ve done that. The first few ballgames, Shane Neighbor has played really well, Reed Stallman has played really well in the post positions. Really, our top five has been doing a really nice job. The people we’re bringing off the bench have done a really nice job for us to pick it up.

“We’re not ever going to replace a kid like Hunter, but we’ve had some kids where we’ve just had to change some things around to make them fit and bring out the qualities that they have to make us a good basketball team.”

Neighbor is averaging 17 points in the early going. Senior guard Austin Huber is getting 10 a game, as he transitions from super shooting guard to the point.

Stallman, Blake Sperfslage and Grant Soukup round out the rest of the starting lineup. Sophomore Andrew Ossman has been a lift off the bench, averaging five points a game.

“I’m really pleased with how it’s going,” Christopherson said. “Defensively we have kind of picked up where we left off (last year). We had to go through some things, obviously, about the first eight days of practice or so, trying to get them there. Now we are just adding bits and pieces of what we want to be before Christmas. Then we’ll work to get better after Christmas.”

Small school standouts early in season

Keota guard J.D. Stout has been the key cog in his team’s 4-0 start. The senior is averaging 31 points per game, including making 61.5 percent of his shots so far (45 of 73).

From two-point range, he’s 34 of 47 (72 percent). Keota has won all of its games by at least 10 points, including a nice 66-56 win over Belle Plaine, which is probably the other top team in the South Iowa Cedar League’s East Division.

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MFL MarMac guard Cedrick Drahn has been great in the early going. He had 36 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in his team’s win this past Saturday over Fillmore Central (Minn.).

He has had back-to-back double-digit assist games this week: 10 in a win over Ed-Co and 11 in a win over Postville.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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