DUNKERTON — As the game got longer, Dunkerton boys’ basketball co-head coach Todd Kuntz began to notice a trend.
The Raiders, currently ranked sixth in Class 1A, like to play fast. Dunkerton will press the entire 84 feet of the Raiders’ home court.
The player at the point of that attack, 6-foot-2 senior guard Brady Happel, can be nuisance for Dunkerton’s opponents, and Happel was doing his thing last Friday in a 64-32 win at Riceville.
At some point early in the game, Kuntz turned to his fellow coaches and noted that Happel had deflected, re-directed or stolen a lot of Wildcat passes.
Happel, a second-team all-state selection last year, finished with 13 steals in the game despite playing only 24 minutes.
“We didn’t realize how many he had until after the game,” Kuntz said. “We press full-court as a team, and he is at the front of the press. He plays so hard and is so athletic ... he gets his hands on everything.”
The 13 steals are not only a Raider record, but a single-game best this season in Iowa and ties for the 11th best single-game mark in state history.
“It is a lot of fun,” Happel says of the full-court defense the Raiders implement. “You can see other teams get really frustrated. We can score a lot of points really fast. We try to turn defense into easy offense and when we do, we get a lot of lay-ups.”
A season ago while averaging 14.9 points a game, Happel led Dunkerton in rebounds (144) and assists (143), while also averaging 2.6 steals per game.
“He has taken his game to another level this year,” Kuntz said. “Brady just kind of impacts the game at all levels and is really being a great leader for us. A perfect example for us of leading by example.
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“Brady never stops moving. So many opposing coaches compliment him on his effort, intensity and leadership. There are very few things he doesn’t do well on the court and obviously that has an effect on our team.”
Happel spent most of the summer with backcourt mate Zach Johnson working on their games and building chemistry with a team that had to replace three starters off a 22-3 squad that lost by two to Edgewood-Colesburg in the 1A substate finals.
That loss is driving the Raiders, and the off-season work is paying off with Dunkerton’s hot start, which includes a season-opening 75-66 win over Don Bosco of Gilbertville, a team that took third in 1A last March.
“That obviously was a tough loss and just made us want to work even harder to achieve that goal this year,” Happel said. “Zach and I tried to get as many people to the gym over the summer because we had to replace a lot that we lost from last season.”
In addition to building chemistry with a cast of new varsity contributors, Happel was driven to the gym over the summer to improve his own game. In particular, Happel was not happy with how he shot the basketball a season ago.
Happel excelled at everything during the 2017-18 season but 3-point shooting, hitting just 29 percent (42 of 149).
“He always can get to the rim,” Kuntz added. “He is a good 3-point shooter, but he seemed to go cold at times. He spent a lot of time in the gym working on his jump shot. Through three games, and it is a small sample size, but he is 8 of 16 3-point shooting, and he is shooting 53 percent from the field.”
While that was an important part to improving his game, Happel, who also runs cross country and competed in four events at state track in May, says he and his teammates have to continue to get better defensively and cleaning up defensive rebounds.
With Happel and fellow starter Riley Tissue, also 6-2, the Raiders do their intimidating not with size, but all out defensive effort.
“Rebounding is definitely a key,” Happel said. “We are very undersized. We’ve got to win games on the defensive end, get big stops down the stretch and close out games in the fourth quarter.”