CEDAR RAPIDS — No surprise.
That the Monticello’s boys’ basketball team is really good this season comes as expected. The Panthers returned everyone from a 2018-19 club that was solid and added an impact freshman.
Monticello is 16-2 and on the cusp of breaking into the Class 2A rankings. The only losses were to Class 4A Cedar Rapids Washington (a game the Panthers led most of the way) and to a top-10 team from Camanche.
“First off, these guys had a huge summer,” said Coach Tim Lambert. “We went to a lot of team camps, and, obviously, they put a lot of work in on their own, going to open gyms, just getting into the gym. A lot of them play AAU for the Barnstormers and the Mavericks and others. That’s what it takes to get better. Then just a natural progression of getting better by getting older as well. They’ve gotten into the weight room, and, honestly, some of them have grown two or three inches this year, which has been pretty nice.
“We’re bigger, we’re stronger, and then the experience they have gotten. A lot of them have played since freshmen for us.”
Monticello went 12-5 last season with an all-sophomore starting lineup. Four of those five (Justin Recker, Ty Kehoe, Luke Lambert and Connor Lambert) have joined ninth-grader Tate Petersen in this year’s starting lineup.
Luke Lambert is the coach’s son, Connor his nephew.
The 6-foot-5 Recker has been a wrecker, averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 68 percent from the field. That includes making 11 of the 18 3-point attempts he has hoisted.
“Justin is as high level of an offensive player as I’ve ever been around,” Lambert said. “He can score it on the inside or the outside. Probably the step he has taken this year is being more of a factor on the defensive end. We have really challenged him to get better on that end.
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“I think he’s a first-team all-state type. He’s an unbelieveable player.”
Monticello trails Camanche by a game for first place in the River Valley Conference’s North Division as we head down the stretch. Those teams play again Tuesday night at Monticello.
Before that is a rivalry game Friday night against Cascade.
“I think coming into it we thought we’d be pretty strong offensively,” Coach Lambert said. “But the biggest surprise has probably been our defense. As of this morning, I think we were third or four in defensive average. And we play man to man the whole game. So to play that high level of defense, in our league, against the quality of teams we’re playing has really been a pleasant surprise for us. The kids have just really bought in defensively, and that’s a thing you can always hang your hat on.”
Examining the conference races
Montezuma, Easton Valley and Meskwaki have clinched division championships in their respective conferences, as the regular season quickly winds down. Montezuma has won the South Iowa Cedar League West, Easton Valley the Tri-Rivers East and Meskwaki the Iowa Star South.
Going into Thursday night, Cedar Falls and Dubuque Senior are tied atop the Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division with one loss each, Waterloo West and Iowa City West the exact same in the Valley Division.
In the Wamac Conference East, Mount Vernon and Marion each have a pair of conference losses. Clear Creek Amana and Center Point-Urbana have four losses apiece atop the West.
West Branch holds a game lead on Iowa City Regina for the top spot in the River Valley South. Belle Plaine is 13-1 and Keota 13-2 in the South Iowa Cedar League East.
North Linn can clinch the Tri-Rivers West with a win Friday night over Springville, which is two games back of the Lynx. Highland is a game behind Pekin in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference North, with both of its losses this season coming to the Panthers.
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In the Northeast Iowa, Charles City is in first at 8-1, with Decorah and Waverly-Shell Rock second at 8-2. MFL MarMac is 13-2 at the top of the Upper Iowa Conference, with Turkey Valley (11-2) and South Winneshiek (11-3) right behind.
Milestones and stats
Former Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Bob Fontana won his 400th career game last week when his Ankeny Centennial team beat Waukee. Centennial is 16-1 and ranked second in Class 4A.
Central City’s Nick Reid posted 31 rebounds in his team’s game last week against Starmont. The 6-foot-7 senior, who has signed with Division II Emporia State (Kansas) leads the state by a wide margin with a rebounding average of 19.3 per game. He also is second in the state in scoring at 28.7 points per game.
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