FAIRBANK — Paul Rundquist Jr. grew up practicing the big shots.
Wapsie Valley’s junior guard can recall playing in the basement as a second-grader and counting down the clock as he shot a small ball into a glass vase. He became a regular at high school basketball practices from a young age, memorizing the last name of every player on the Mount Pleasant teams his dad, Paul Rundquist Sr., frequently coached to state tournament runs.
“That’s when I really got a love for basketball, seeing the emotions they had through it,” Rundquist Jr. said. “When dad went to state four times in a row I really noticed how much they loved to play the game and it made me want to play harder.”
Rundquist Jr. has certainly made a name for himself on the basketball court at Wapsie Valley — averaging 20 points a game as a freshman and sophomore — before putting up 32.3 points through his team’s first four victories of the 2017-18 season. He’s been a lights-out 43 percent shooter from 3-point range and has developed an ability to score in the paint while ranking among the team leaders in assists.
Learning from some of the state’s top coaches, Rundquist Jr. shows the poise and leadership of a polished basketball player.
His grandfather, Gordon Rundquist, compiled a 559-250 record in 38 seasons between Maquoketa Valley and West Branch and currently serves as an assistant on Steve Bergman’s perennial Class 4A championship contender at Iowa City West. Rundquist Sr. has built a 290-152 record while coaching 17 of 19 seasons at Mount Pleasant.
When Rundquist Jr. made the move to Fairbank with his mom in seventh grade, he became part of a Wapsie Valley program that Marty McKowen has coached to a 550-247 record.
Moving from a 3A school in Mount Pleasant, Rundquist has embraced the support he’s found in the smaller school district.
“Everyone knows everyone here at Wapsie,” Rundquist said. “People come up to me that I don’t even know and say, ‘Good game last week.’ That’s just the way Wapsie is. Coach McKowen is one of the best in Iowa, so he knows what he’s talking about.
“Dad has a different mindset than Coach McKowen, and grandpa has a different mindset than both of them. You just hear a lot of information.”
The countless hours Rundquist has invested shooting have been revealed throughout the early portion of his career. He put up a single-game high of 50 points in his second game of last season and was the focal point on offense for a team that turned a 5-18 season into 18-8 with the last loss coming in overtime to Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the substate final.
“Paul is one of those kids who is involved in basketball pretty much year-round,” McKowen said of Rundquist who plays for Tyler Cleveland’s Mavs club program in Cedar Rapids. “When he came in we knew that he was something special.”
The manner in which Rundquist has accumulated his eye-opening point totals has come somewhat quietly within the flow of the game.
“A lot of times you’ll walk out of the gym and somebody will say to you, ‘Hey, Paul had 35 tonight’, and you’re like, ‘Really?’” McKowen related. “He gets his shots, but he also has other people involved.”
Wapsie Valley’s success this season has come with one of the team’s top rebounders and scorers, Cameron O’Donnell, still recovering from a hand injury. A team that hit its stride with 10 consecutive wins after Christmas break a year ago has carried momentum into this season with four consecutive victories.
“Coach McKowen told us if we really commit to playing defense and playing as a team then we’ll be something special,” Rundquist said. “We took that to heart and just kept playing hard.”
The Wapsie Valley standout says coming up just short of reaching the state tournament has motivated the Warriors through the offseason. Rundquist is often working alongside younger teammates during shooting drills, giving advice to a group that includes a freshman and two sophomores in the team’s main rotation.
While coaching may come naturally to Rundquist Jr., the high school junior remains undecided whether or not he will follow in his dad and grandfather’s footsteps.
“I definitely thought about it,” Rundquist Jr. said. “But I don’t know. It’s a lot of work.”