FAYETTE — It took just eight weeks for the Upper Iowa men’s basketball team to equal its win total from last season.
An infusion of talented newcomers is a big reason why the Peacocks are poised for a significant turnaround.
“With a young, new group, you know you are going to go through some ups and downs,” said seventh-year Upper Iowa Coach Brooks McKowen, who will lead the Peacocks (7-7) into a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game against Augustana (S.D.) Friday night at 7:30 at Dorman Gymnasium. “But it is a group that wants to be good. They work really hard. They get in the film room and they want to continue to improve whether you are winning or losing. It is a fun group of kids to be around and I think that has helped them early on this year to get a few wins.”
Upper Iowa was just 7-22 last season, its first losing campaign under McKowen. Junior guards Joe Smoldt and Jareese Williams are the only returning starters in a lineup that has been supplemented by freshmen Jake Hilmer and Dylan Jones, plus Missouri-St. Louis transfer Joshua Carter.
“It is a good group of guys,” McKowen said. “We have got a lot of new guys this year combined with a few returners that have been in our system for a while now that have really taken some good leadership roles and showing the way a little bit.”
Hilmer is the reigning Co-Iowa Mr. Basketball and The Gazette Male Athlete of the Year after a fantastic prep career at North Linn that culminated in a Class 2A state championship for his team and the Iowa career assists (1,106) and steals (534) records for himself to go along with 2,332 points, which ranks 10th in Iowa history.
With the Peacocks, Hilmer has started all 14 games at point guard and is third on the team with 10.9 points per game along with 2.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
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“We play a fast style here at Upper Iowa,” Hilmer said. “That is similar to what I did in high school. For me, I am pretty comfortable in the offensive system. It is just more so the size of the athletes and the athleticism on the court, but it seems like each week I get a little bit more comfortable.”
The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Jones plays center for the Peacocks after helping Waukee reach the state tournament in 2018 and 2019. Carter — the only senior on the team — played high school ball at Dubuque Wahlert and brings a lot of energy and defensive ability to the power forward position.
“They have done really well,” said Williams, who leads the team in scoring (14.9 points per game), rebounding (4.9) and 3-point shooting percentage (48.0%). “It is a big boost for our team. … Those guys have been great for us early on. It has been surprising just how impactful they have been so far this season, especially guys like Jake, who is just night in and night out, consistently good for our team.”