Last season was largely a memorable one on the metro boys’ basketball scene.
All-state standouts like AJ Green, CaRondis Harris-Anderson and Tyrese Nickelson dazzled fans on a nightly basis. Waterloo West climbed over the .500 mark for the first time in nine years. Waterloo East looked more than ever like the Steve McGraw-coached teams of old that wore out opponents on a regular basis. And Cedar Falls capped it all by winning its first state championship.
A year later, things will look a little different.
Green and Harris-Anderson have taken their record-setting talent to the collegiate level. A couple of returning players have changed schools. Waterloo Columbus has a new head coach, and Waterloo Christian is back after a year hiatus from varsity hoops.
Even though the irreplaceable Green has taken his talents and his 26 points per game to the University of Northern Iowa, the Tigers return enough firepower from a 21-5 team to put together another memorable run.
Head coach Ryan Schultz returns starters Logan Wolf (13 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game), Jack Campbell (7.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Jackson Frericks (7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), key reserves Reese Gardner, Mason Abbas and Josh Ollendieck and a talented group of younger players that includes 6-foot-9 Chase Courbat and Cael Loecher.
“We’ll probably be a little more score by committee at the offensive end, but at the same time we could potentially be dangerous at that end, too, once we get the flow figured out,” said Schultz. “We have a lot of guys who can hurt you on any particular night.”
Defense will be a key for the Tigers.
“We need to make sure the guys coming up to fill some of those roles from the junior class and the sophomore class are ready to dedicate themselves to that end of the floor,” added Schultz.
Cedar Falls will also have plenty of size. In addition to Courbat, Frericks is 6-7, Campbell is 6-5 and Wolf is 6-4.
“We can put a pretty lengthy group on the floor on any given night and play some different styles, which is nice, too,” noted Schultz.
Nickelson returns to lead the Trojans as they look to take a giant step from a 10-12 season. The 6-foot senior guard averaged 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game a year ago and shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range.
“I couldn’t be happier with Tyrese right now,” said McGraw after the first week of practice. “He’s grown up, and he’s accepting a leadership role with this group. I would be shocked if he doesn’t have a very, very fine senior year.
“He’s an old-school gym rat, and I mean that as a compliment. He loves basketball. He’s as good of a shooter as we’ve ever had, and he’s starting to understand the rest of the game.”
East also returns Ramon Harrington (6.7 ppg), Tavious Jenkins (2.4 ppg), Jordan Wise (3.5 ppg) and Ramir Scott. The Trojans suffered a significant setback, however, with Kendall Robinson undergoing labrum surgery.
“He’s a great kid and a really good athlete,” said McGraw. “We will miss him.”
Overall, McGraw was encouraged by what he saw during the first week of practice.
“We’ve had six practices and normally you have some bad practices,” he said. “I felt like we had good practices all week.”
One key to the season, McGraw added, will be what the Trojans do off the court.
“I’m too old to worry about whether I’m going to lose them because of their behavior or their grades,” he said. “Slowly, but surely, they are growing. We really, truly are athletic enough that I think we can be competitive.”
It’ll be a young team of Wahawks trying to build on last year’s 13-11 campaign.
Head coach Cliff Berinobis returns just three letterwinners in Isaiah Johnson (10.8 ppg), Jaden Keller (5.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.4 apg) and Antonio Alexander (5.0 ppg). Nick Pepin left the program for Iowa City West, but the Wahawks will get some help from California transfer Sebastian Gunderson and East transfer Daquavion Walker.
“We’re kind of a wild card right now,” said Berinobis. “I don’t know exactly what we’re going to be, but the kids are working hard in practice, I can tell you that.”
Berinobis, whose deep coaching staff will include former Columbus head coach Ben Barnett, said the players who work the hardest will get the most minutes whether they are freshmen or seniors.
“We used to think you’ve got to be pretty special to play as a freshman or sophomore,” he explained. “In today’s era, I think the whole thing is about teaching these kids work ethic. It doesn’t matter if it’s a freshman or sophomore. If he’s outworking a senior, he’s gonna play.”
Berinobis said his team is deep in guards, and defense and rebounding will be keys.
“We’ve got to rebound as a team,” he said. “We’ve got to crash hard, and we’ve got to get out and put pressure on people.”
Drake Schuring is the Sailors’ new head coach, and he’s got a roster that is largely intact from a year ago with the exception of Alex Zike and JaQwan Jackson, who have left Columbus.
Cannon Butler (7.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer, but Robbie Porth, Ben Leibold, Kaden Ludwig, Trey Mudd, Austin Zaputil, Parker Westhoff, Blake Freeseman, David Ryan and Jarrett Kruse saw quite a bit of action a year ago.
“The guys are bringing energy. They’re excited, and the coaching staff is excited for them,” said Schuring, a former Decorah High standout who then played at Luther College before injuries ended his career.
“Our experience is definitely going to come into play. They just know the pace of the game a little better.”
Early on, two things have stood out for Schuring, who also spent a year as a manager for UNI head coach Ben Jacobson.
“Defensively, I think they’re good at communicating,” he said. “And we’ve got some strong finishers. I think our biggest strength right now is finishing around the rim.”
The Regents are back in business after low numbers a year ago.
Head coach Lucas Segerstrom will build around four lettermen — John Zwack, Isaiah Krause, David Swalve and Dominick Jones.
Zwack averaged 5.5 points with 72 assists two years ago as a freshman when Krause chipped in a bucket per game. Swalve and Jones are sophomores who have yet to take the court for a varsity game.