Prep Basketball

Brian Wheatley of North Linn is the Gazette girls' basketball coach of the year

He has built a program to be envied, with 20-plus wins, 10 straight years, including a 2A title this season

Brian Wheatley of North Linn is the Gazette girls' basketball coach of the year
Brian Wheatley of North Linn is the Gazette girls' basketball coach of the year

TROY MILLS — As the tone gradually quieted on a euphoric ride home March 7, North Linn girls’ basketball coach Brian Wheatley and assistant Kevin Goedken chatted quietly in the front of the bus.

The subject of the conversation?

“We started talking about next year,” Wheatley said.

With five seniors — including four starters — to replace, there’s plenty for Wheatley to ponder. But for now, let’s allow next year to be next year.

Today, the Lynx are reigning Class 2A state champions. And today, Wheatley is the 2019-20 Gazette-area girls’ basketball coach of the year.

Meet the 2019-20 Gazette all-area girls’ basketball team

With all of the recent idle time, Wheatley has had an opportunity to look back at the telecasts of the Lynx’s three victories in Des Moines.

“We picked a good time to play our best basketball,” he said. “We were far from perfect. We had some rough spots. But the kids never gave up, they really stuck with it.

“One thing I noticed as I re-watched it ... our bench was going crazy. Everybody was invested.”

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Total investment. That’s why North Linn has succeeded over most programs in Eastern Iowa. Consider this — 10 consecutive seasons of 20 or more victories.

That’s staggering. No other girls’ program can say that.

“It’s hard to believe anybody has done that,” said Mike Hilmer, the school’s athletics director and boys’ basketball coach, and also the guy who brought Wheatley to North Linn once upon a time.

The investment doesn’t come solely from Wheatley.

“A lot of people ask how we do it. We have good people working with our youth,” he said. “We have a lot of people that put the time in throughout the season.”

Thus, players come into the high-school program more experienced and more polished than at most other schools.

Wheatley, 42, graduated from Estherville-Lincoln Central in 1996. The boys’ basketball coach there was Mike Hilmer.

“When he played for me, he was skinny and had a lot of hair,” Hilmer said. “He was a very solid post player and swing man, a good rebounder. He had a nose for the ball.”

Wheatley went to Iowa Lakes Community College, then the University of Northern Iowa. It was at UNI that Hilmer — who had moved on to North Linn — approached him about coaching. Wheatley commuted from Cedar Falls to Troy Mills for two seasons before graduating from UNI and moving into the district.

After five years as a varsity boys’ assistant, Wheatley applied for the head girls’ job. The team was coming off an 0-22 season.

“I sure didn’t see anything like this coming,” he said.

But eventually, it did. In 15 seasons, Wheatley has crafted a 304-81 record.

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“We started at the bottom, and each year we got a little better,” Wheatley said. “We’ve had a lot of kids the last eight, nine, 10 years that raised the level of expectation.”

Wheatley is “a hard worker and he’s smart. He puts a lot of time in,” said Scot Moenck, coach at archrival Maquoketa Valley. “I’m really happy for him and his team. Everybody wants to reach the pinnacle, and now he’s done it.

“I know in our community, and probably in his, people say, ‘Don’t you guys just hate each other?’ But we get along really, really well. He’s one of my best friends. I texted him with three minutes left (in the championship-game win over Osage), just because I wanted to be the first to congratulate him.”

The school at North Linn is K-12, all in one extended building. That gives the high-school players a chance to interact with the young Lynx wannabes.

Wheatley teaches middle-school history.

“When we go to state, I bring the banner into my classroom afterward,” he said. “I remember when Grace (Flanagan) was in middle school, she said she wanted to get one of those.”

Flanagan — along with twin sister Abby Flanagan and senior classmates Hannah Bridgewater, Sydney Burke and Fallon Finnegan — played on three state teams. And they cashed in with the program’s first title.

Flanagan twins shoot North Linn to the 2A girls’ state basketball championship

“(Wheatley and Goedken) believed in every single one of us,” Grace Flanagan said after the championship game. “It’s great to get this for them.”

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Eventually, the glow will fade and it will be time to get back to work. November will be here before you know it.

“We lose a lot, but our cupboard isn’t bare,” Wheatley said. “Our JV was undefeated, and our seventh- and eighth-grade classes are really good. We have a lot of kids capable of playing.

“It’s going to be another fun group.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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