CEDAR RAPIDS — By any measure, he has had one of the greatest careers ever for an Iowa high school boys’ basketball player.
Don’t even start with the whole he’s-at-a-small-school thing. Jake Hilmer could play and excel for any team at any level.
True to his game, not to mention his humble demeanor, the North Linn senior deflects that kind of praise. As you’d expect from the state’s all-time assists leader, he dishes off credit for all that he has accomplished.
Which is a bunch, by the way.
“I have been so fortunate to play for coaches who have put me in great positions to succeed and with teammates whose unselfish ways and my unselfish ways have blended together to make it all kind of possible,” Hilmer said. “I think it’s easier to say stuff like that when we’ve had so many wins as a team. If I was playing on a team that was .500 or something, that doesn’t make postseason runs, it’s probably a different narrative. I think I landed at the perfect spot at the perfect time and have kind of just run with it. It has been really fun.”
North Linn is 20-0 and top ranked in Class 2A as the postseason begins Monday. The Lynx don’t actually play their first district game until Thursday, earning a first-round bye as a No. 1 seed.
Last season’s Class 1A state runner-up, they have a 96-4 record in Hilmer’s four years as their point guard. That includes one, just one, regular-season loss.
From an individual standpoint, he has broken Iowa’s all-time steals and assists records. Obliterated the assists mark, actually, his 1,064 and counting being nearly 300 more than the next-highest guy.
He is one of 37 preps in the state to top 2,000 career points and the only one with over 2,000 points and 1,000 assists.
“Obviously, Jake is a special player,” said North Linn Co-Coach Mike Hilmer, Jake’s dad. “People may not realize it now, but they will when he’s gone. He truly is a kid who makes everyone around him better, and I don’t mean in just basketball, either. You learn a lot as a coach from (other) coaches and the experiences that you have. But I have learned a lot the last four years from my son about things that I do in coaching and ways I can get better and things like that. I feel like he has made me a better coach.”
Jake has increased his scoring just slightly this season, from 24 a game to 25.5. But North Linn has five players who average double figures in points (including Jake’s freshman brother, Austin), its fast-paced offense truly a collective effort.
Hilmer said he worked hard on his shooting in the offseason and that part of his game has improved immensely. He was motivated to do so because of last year’s 49-46 title game loss to Grand View Christian.
“You watch the game we didn’t win last year, and you try and figure out what you could have done better, what the team could have done better,” he said. “And I think if my shot was as good then as it is now, we would have won that game. Hopefully the improvement in my shot can help us win some games here down the stretch.”
Hilmer has signed to play basketball and baseball at Division-II Upper Iowa. The thought was the 6-footer would have been good enough to play D-I had he chosen to concentrate on one sport.
But he doesn’t want to do that, and you can’t blame him.
“I think I definitely could have played Division-I basketball if I had waited out the process a little longer,” he said. “There are some schools, I think I probably could have landed a Division-I offer. But I don’t think I cared about going anywhere more than where I’m going now and playing both sports. It’s just one of those things where maybe I had just pursued basketball I could done it, if I had pursued just baseball, I could have done it. But I decided to take both paths and ride them as long as I can.”
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