Prep Basketball

Iowa high school boys' basketball 2020-21: Gazette area teams to watch

Montezuma's Trey Shearer (13) runs down the court trailed by Wapsie Valley's Tyler Ott (24) during the first quarter of
Montezuma's Trey Shearer (13) runs down the court trailed by Wapsie Valley's Tyler Ott (24) during the first quarter of their Class 1A state semifinal game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Here is a look at some of the boys’ basketball teams from The Gazette area to keep an eye on this season.

Alburnett

Linn County is absolutely loaded at the small-school level.

The Pirates went 15-8 last season, losing to state champion Wapsie Valley in a Class 1A second-round postseason game.

Starting forwards Shane Neighbor and Reed Stallman return. Neighbor averaged a team-best 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, Stallman 12.1 points and team-best 10.3 rebounds.

But it’s the comeback of senior guard Hunter Caves that makes this team so dangerous. He missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Caves averaged 13.8 points as a sophomore and was so integral in Alburnett’s run to the 1A state championship game in 2019. Throw in a tremendous veteran head coach in Jeff Christopherson, and the Pirates are going to be a handful for any and all opponents.

Meskwaki

The Warriors have tons of experience. They were 18-5 last season and won their division in the Iowa Star Conference.

Six guys who started games last season are back. The headliner is senior guard Taurice Grant, the school’s first-ever all-stater who averaged 15.8 points, 6.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. That’s pretty good.

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Victor Balderas (14.4 ppg) and Osceola Tyon (10.7 ppg) also averaged double figures in scoring last season, and Tiernan Wanatee (9.5 ppg) was close.

Evan Nelson and Larnell Velaquez combined to make 30 starts in 2019-20. Meskawaki ranked ninth in the state (all classes) last season in steals.

Monticello

Here’s the good. The really good.

All five starters are back from the school’s first state tournament team in 60 years. Monticello, which finished 21-3, lost in the Class 2A quarterfinals to fellow River Valley Conference member Camanche, 67-52.

Forward Justin Recker was an all-stater last season, averaging 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The other veteran starters are Luke Lambert (10.0 ppg), Tate Petersen (9.5 ppg), Connor Lambert (7.8 ppg) and Ty Kehoe (6.3 ppg).

Now here’s the potential bad news. Monticello has moved up to Class 3A this season.

Regardless, this team has the capability to make it back-to-back state tournament trips.

Montezuma

The Braves finished third in Class 1A at the state tournament last season, after finishing fourth in 2019. So what will this season hold?

Montezuma has four returning starters, led by superb guard Trey Shearer. A two-time first-team all-stater, he averaged 25.2 points per game last season and is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

His brother, Masin, also is back at guard, after averaging 8.2 points as a freshman. Senior Cole Watts returns after averaging 17.7 points in 2019-20.

Eddie Burgess comes off an otherworldly football season and provides a significant inside presence. He averaged 11.4 points and 10.5 rebounds as a sophomore last season.

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Montezuma was 25-3 last season, the only loss to a 1A team coming to state champion Wapsie Valley in the state tourney semifinals.

North Linn

This season, the Lynx fell on the Class 1A side of the teeter-totter.

North Linn was a 2A school last season, making it to the state championship game but losing to Boyden-Hull. That ended a 52-game win streak.

North Linn won the 1A title in 2019, finished second in 1A in 2018 and third in 2017. Its overall record since the 2015-16 season is 128-5.

Now that’s a run. And it’ll continue this season, with four starters back in the fold, led by first-team all-stater Austin Hilmer.

He averaged 17.7 points per game last season and led the state in assists. That average was 7.9 per game, by the way.

Dylan Kurt (12 ppg), Gunner Vanourney (7.1 ppg) and Cade Haughenbury (6.4 ppg) also return. Ben Wheatley, Kaleb Kurt and Tate Haughenbury should be factors off the bench for a team that presses you from the minute you get off the bus.

Replacing all-state forward Austin Miller (23.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg) will be problematic, but with this much talent back, that’s probably picking nits. Looking toward the future, there’s only one senior on the roster, too, in Kaleb Kurt.

Springville

What a season for the Orioles in 2019-20. They went 20-6 and advanced to the state tournament for just the second time, the first since 1975.

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A seventh seed, Springville hung very tough before losing its 1A quarterfinal game to second-seeded Algona Garrigan, 55-52. Springville had a six-point lead after three quarters.

Four starters return, including leading scorer Alex Koppes (19.8 ppg). He had 21 points in the state tournament game.

Rhenden Wagaman (14.3 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game), Luke Menster (11.9 ppg) and Bryce Wilson (7.4 ppg) are the other starters back. Tommy Hagensick and Grant Gloeckner were the top two guys off the Orioles bench and also return.

This team isn’t very big (tallest player is 6-foot-2), but it should be really good.

Others to watch

In no particular order, here.

West Branch went 18-5 last season and returns multiple guys who had a lot of playing time. Look out for Simon Palmer and University of Iowa football recruit Jeff Bowie, among others.

Iowa City Regina comes off a state championship football season. The Regals were 15-7 last season and a state tournament contender until forward Ashton Cook got injured. He’s back after averaging 16.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Washington (Iowa) was 14-7 last season and has three guys back who essentially averaged double figures in scoring last season: Kasen Bailey (13.4), Ethan Patterson (10.1) and Trashaun Willis (9.3).

Marion has become a state tourney contender regularly. The Indians were 19-5 last season, losing an epic triple-overtime 3A substate final to Center Point-Urbana. Two starters are back in Gage Franck and Brayson Laube.

Cedar Rapids Kennedy might just have the best team in the corridor. The Cougars were 14-9 last season and return the Metro’s top player in senior center Caleb Schlaak, as well as exciting point guard Kenzie Reed, who averaged 7.6 points and 3.3 assists per game last season as a freshman.

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Conference winners

Here’s one person’s guess at who will win area conference this season. And ‘guess’ is the key word here.

Mississippi Valley Mississippi — Cedar Falls

Mississippi Valley Valley — Dubuque Hempstead

Wamac East — Mount Vernon

Wamac West — Clear Creek Amana

River Valley North — Monticello

River Valley South — Iowa City Regina

Tri-Rivers East — Easton Valley

Tri-Rivers West — North Linn

Upper Iowa — South Winneshiek

Northeast Iowa — Waverly-Shell Rock

South Iowa Cedar East — Belle Plaine

South Iowa Cedar West — Montezuma

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

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