Iowa City is the center of Iowa’s high school hoops universe.
At least through this season.
The first foray into boys’ basketball for The Register’s Iowa Eight is based around the Old Capitol, where future Hawkeye players want to be and near one of the state’s powerhouse programs.
“It’s not just guys from all over the country, it’s great guys from all around this state sticking around to play Iowa basketball,” says Spirit Lake star Ryan Kriener. “I think that’s a really cool thing.”
Kriener, Dubuque Wahlert forward Cordell Pemsl and Linn-Mar guard Jordan Bohannon are all senior signees to the University of Iowa, teammates in AAU basketball, and members of the Iowa Eight.
The trio has made significant strides after all-state campaigns last season and have one more winter to make an impact before heading to the Big Ten.
“Whether it’s a win or a loss, Iowa fans are always going to be by your side,” Pemsl said. “They travel well. The coaching staff is great. They want to see you succeed. I caught that the second I stepped on campus and that’s why I knew I wanted to be a Hawkeye.”
A couple more picks are already in town.
Iowa City West had a run of three consecutive Class 4A titles interrupted last season with a third-place finish and 25-1 record. The talented Trojans graduated just one player and are the only prep squad to place multiple players on the Iowa Eight. Senior Tanner Lohaus and junior Connor McCaffery are already committed to play at Northern Iowa and Iowa.
“Every one of my guys has gotten better because they all work on basketball,” West coach Steve Bergman said. “The question is, how do we fit it all together?”
The youngest player on the list has already told coach Fran McCaffery that he wants to be a Hawkeye too. Muscatine sophomore Joe Wieskamp is the top returning scorer in 4A and a nationally-renowned prospect, intent on making his team relevant.
The two guards that round out the group are not circling around Iowa City, but they’re not off the radar either. Traditionally tough MOC-Floyd Valley has a standout in Levi Jansen, who played on the same AAU squad as the in-state guys from Iowa’s 2016 class. And Interstate 35 point guard Jaylan While is representing for small schools after leading 2A in scoring, assists and steals last season.
“If Jaylan stays the same, does exactly what he did last year, he should be 2A player of the year,” I-35 coach Nate Rankin said. “He’s a great kid and just awesome on the court.”
The Iowa Eight already has eyes on Iowa City this prep hoops season. But they’ll all want to be Des Moines-bound once the games begin on Monday.
MEET THE IOWA EIGHT BOYS’ BASKETBALL TEAM
- School: Linn-Mar
- Class: 2016
- Height: 6-1
- Position: Guard
Key stats: No one in 4A made more 3-pointers than Bohannon last season, knocking down 77 in 23 games while averaging 17.8 points per game. The three-year starter made 94 percent of his free throws in 2014-15 too, icing games as a point guard. Bohannon also averaged a team-high 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
College choice: Three older Bohannon brothers ended up elsewhere, but Jordan committed to Iowa on Aug. 28. His father, Gordy, was Iowa’s starting quarterback for the 1982 Rose Bowl.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: One of the best shooters in the state has become so much more. Bohannon continued his family’s legacy as an early varsity player because of his spot-up shooting ability, but his efforts to become an athlete and pure point guard made him a Big Ten basketball prospect.
“In practice a lot of times I think he passes up shots because he’s trying to get other guys involved and work on other skills,” Linn-Mar coach Chris Robertson said. “But when push comes to shove I’d say he shoots it as well as anybody in the state, and maybe he’s the best shooter in the state right now.”
Bohannon’s hot streaks are well-known across the MVC and he’s increased his threat by improving his passing, dribbling and quickness of release. ESPN has him rated as a four-star guard and Iowa’s top 2016 prospect.
Add in a confident senior class and Cedar Rapids Washington transfer Jared Printy – a Western Michigan commit – and the Lions have become a contender.
“I feel like there was more pressure on me the last three years than this season because we didn’t have much of an offensive threat,” Bohannon said. “We’ve got five seniors planning to start and it’s going to be a huge weight off my shoulders. And we haven’t been to state in three years which made us all work harder.”
Quotable: “His first couple seasons we knew he’d be a great shooter, but we’d work to make him move off his spot and put it on the floor. Now he’s comfortable driving by people or spotting up and when he makes one, you know it could be five or six shots in a row going down. He obviously comes from a great basketball family, a like the other Bohannons, just a mentally tough kid that can’t seem to put away.” Dubuque Wahlert coach Tom English
- School: MOC-Floyd Valley
- Class: 2016
- Height: 6-2
- Position: Guard
Key stats: It’s been uphill since averaging 11.8 points as a freshman for a 3A semifinalist, topping 1,000 points in the last two seasons. Jansen had 21.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per outing as a sophomore and a similar 21.5 and 7.5 last season. The Dutchmen have won 59 games in his three seasons, and Jansen has hit 135 3-pointers in that time.
College choice: Decided to join his brother Daniel at Division II Augustana – Hawkeye fans should recognize them from the Nov. 6 exhibition – with a commitment back in August.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: Looking for a prep player to top 40 points or shoot the lights out in a big game? Look no further. Jansen has averaged better than 21 points per game for the past two seasons, including a 39-point career-high and 32-point state tournament appearance as a sophomore.
“Levi has been the most impressive 2016 player I’ve seen this summer and it’s not close,” Prep Hoops Iowa recruiting analyst T.J. Rushing said in July. “He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants shooting the basketball.”
The youngest in a slew of athletic brothers passed up D-I offers to go to continue his career at Augustana. His 6-foot-9 brother Daniel is already there. His improvement athletically and development as a point guard have made him a hot commodity heading into a highly-anticipated senior season.
“I’m getting more physical, stronger, working on being able to go through contact,” Jansen said.
“I work out with my brother as much as we can when he comes back and with him going in as a freshman and playing right away in college is big and really helped me out too. With him playing at such a high level right away and being successful, I got a lot of confidence and allowed me to pick his brain.”
Quotable: “The last couple years Levi has done a lot of scoring, but we’re really hoping he’s going to be able to bring out more scoring in his teammates this year. He just works so hard, his ball-handling has improved and he’s much more confident with the basketball.” MOC-Floyd Valley coach Loren De Jong
- School: Spirit Lake
- Class: 2016
- Height: 6-9
- Position: Center
Key stats: Spirit Lake led 3A in team field goal percentage last season with Kreiner averaging 19.8 points and shooting 71.3 percent from the floor. He added 8.5 rebounds and a block per game too, playing inside for a 20-win team. As a sophomore in New Hampton – his family moved before his junior year – he averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.
College choice: As regional interest piqued following an AAU championship in July with Martin Brothers, Kriener committed to Iowa. He had around 20 offers, including Missouri, Wichita State, Minnesota and Northern Iowa.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: The anchor of an outstanding team has the skills and shot to do more as a senior. Kriener is a matchup nightmare for most of the state, but range beyond the 3-point line, a return to full health and increased confidence make him an even scarier proposition for a loaded Indians lineup.
“I didn’t play much of my junior year healthy,” Kriener said.
“It was tough but it toughened me up a little bit. I got in better shape and put in work in the offseason to become more versatile, for high school and college. I think it’s going to help me out a lot.”
North Dakota commit Billy Brown provides backcourt assistance and should take some of the scoring load off his center, who can’t shoot much better than the 71 percent he lit up last season. Kriener already had successful big man traits – post moves, rebounding, rim protection – and added ball-handling, passing and a sweet stroke in the offseason.
That transformed his profile from mid-major project to coveted Hawkeye commit.
“He’s got amazing footwork and he’s really working on his 3-point shot,” Prep Hoops Iowa recruiting analyst T.J. Rushing said when Kriener committed to Iowa in July. “I think he’s got a great chance to be super successful at the next level. And he’s the most sought-after guy in the class.”
Kriener is already an all-state pick. Can he get Spirit Lake back to the state tournament too?
Quotable: “He’s big boy. We got to see him up-close and personal last season in our district tournament game and for a big guy he’s very skilled. Not too often you have guy with that size and skill and he can go out and shoot the three, and he even passes it pretty well. As you might imagine, that can cause a problem or two for the other coach.” – MOC-Floyd Valley coach Loren De Jong
- School: Iowa City West
- Class: 2016
- Height: 6-7
- Position: Forward
Key stats: The fourth-leading scorer for the Trojans last season still put up 11 points per game. Lohaus shot 61 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw line as a versatile wing and post player, and added 4.4 rebounds and a pair of assists each time out. He shot 59 percent in more limited minutes as a sophomore.
College choice: Another sought-after recruit decided to follow his brother when Lohaus committed to Northern Iowa in May. Wyatt is a sophomore with the Panthers and led West’s title run in 2014. Their father Brad played at Iowa from 1982-86.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: How many prep players in Iowa have the size, athleticism and court vision to defend or score from any position? Iowa City West has a few and Lohaus might have the highest ceiling of the bunch. Entering his third varsity season with the Trojans, Wyatt’s little-bigger brother is a sharp Swiss Army Knife of a forward, efficient and capable of doing all the little things.
“Sometimes you’re scouting those guys and you certainly notice Lohaus, but you don’t follow him,” Dubuque Wahlert coach Tom English said. “Then after the game you look at the stat sheet and there’s 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists. He’s able to really quietly put a ton of stats in the book and he’s a veteran, heady player.”
His statistics blend right into West’s balance, but he can be an effective scorer, rebounder, passer, or defender, depending on what coach Steve Bergman needs him to do.
“Everybody starts out thinking he’s going to be like his brother but he’s not,” Bergman said. “He’s a pretty good athlete. It’s not jump out of the gym type stuff, but he’s got a quick first step, he can stay in a stance, he can guard smaller people.
“Offensively, he’s a matchup situation. He can shoot it good enough that they have to guard him, but he can put it on the floor pretty well. He’s put more time into the game this past two years and it’s really starting to show.”
Lohaus is a well-scouted baseball pitcher too, but has decided to follow his family into college basketball.
Quotable: “Tanner doesn’t need to be the superstar or the go-to guy to be happy or successful. He can do it all just because of athleticism and size, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a star-type player at UNI and I think they know that and he’s OK with that. On that Iowa City West team with so many guys that have the potential to be superstars anyway, I think he’s already accepted that role, he’s already perfect for that role and that’s good for everybody.” Prep Hoops Iowa recruiting analyst T.J. Rushing
- School: Iowa City West
- Class: 2017
- Height: 6-5
- Position: Guard
Key stats: Balanced numbers in one of the state’s best programs means McCaffery’s numbers are less impressive than the fact that he’s started since the first game of his freshman season. After averaging 6.1 points and 4.9 assists on the 2014 title team, McCaffery led the Trojans in points and rebounds last season. He posted 13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game and made more free throws (116) than any returning player in 4A.
College choice: Announced the commitment to join his father and the Hawkeyes on Aug. 30 of last year.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: The heckling along should earn him regional respect. A national top 100 recruit with pedigree and the ability to start as a freshman point guard for the 4A state champions, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s oldest son is a top talent too.
“I really like the playing in the type of environments where everyone is rooting against you,” Connor said. “I love having people yell, having the intensity of the game heightened. As a team we handle that pressure really well playing together.
“The pressure of being West, me playing for West, and people have said things to me because of my dad or whatever, it doesn’t bother me. It just makes me laugh at this point.”
Iowa City West’s elite status puts even more pressure on McCaffery from night-to-night, and he delivers with consistent production as a creator and finisher. Classmate Devontae Lane allows the confident 6-5 guard to shuffle around the backcourt and become a constant mismatch at the prep level.
“Connor McCaffery is tough, can really rebound from the wing spot, is a good shooter and passer,” Scout.com national recruiting analyst Brian Snow said last summer. “He’s athletically limited, but he knows what he is and plays to his strengths.”
Boosting that athleticism and refining an outside shooting stroke have been McCaffery’s biggest goals of the offseason and should make him an even tougher matchup. The Trojans and their outstanding junior guards will force opponents to pick their poison.
Quotable: “Connor is an exceptional passer and what’s he added is becoming a more explosive scorer. Last year there were games where he struggled to score, but he can his own shot better and he is a better shooter than he was a year ago.” Iowa City West coach Steve Bergman
- School: Dubuque Wahlert
- Class: 2016
- Height: 6-8
- Position: Forward
Key stats: Battling injuries and rugged MVC competition, Pemsl will be a four-year starter with over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds entering the season. The team’s top scorer and rebounder since his freshman campaign, he averaged 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season and 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds as a sophomore. Pemsl has shot better than 55 percent from the field for his entire career.
College choice: Committed to Iowa before the end of his sophomore year, way back on May 1, 2014. At the time he also had offers from Northern Iowa and Creighton.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: The centerpiece player has lived up to the hype. Injuries, pressure and competition could all have given Pemsl an excuse to underperform, but there’s no disputing back-to-back Class 3A titles and the production that comes with being a double-digit scorer and consistent rebounder for three years. He’s find ways to grind down competition on the court without getting worn down by expectations – as a longtime Wahlert star and future Hawkeye – off it.
“I’ve noticed a lot of progression just over the past two weeks of practice that I’m playing at the level I know I can play at,” Pemsl said. “Everybody is just telling me to listen to my body and not push myself to the point of injury again.”
Pemsl was the only 2016 player from Iowa in the Rivals 150, but recently fell out after an inactive summer and fall rehabbing from a painful procedure that broke the femur in his right leg and insert a ledge, plate and screws to realign it. A scrimmage last week was his first competitive action since the 3A title game last March; physical therapists and the Iowa coaching staff wants him to ease into his comeback.
“Early on the pain was a 10 out of 10. It was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” Pemsl said. “But to see where I’m at now? There was no doubt in my mind it was worth it.
“I’m always aware if someone’s near me on my right side or if I’m coming down from a rebound, I’ll think about how I’m coming down. But when you don’t think about it, that’s when you can just go out and play. That’s what I’m trying to do, and when I do, I’m a whole different player and not playing so timid.”
And yet there’s no denying his impact as the star of the state’s class. Pemsl is a strong and skilled winner that can do just about anything as a prep when he’s healthy and sets his mind to it.
Quotable: “In my era we’ve never had a four-year starter. With the tradition we’ve had to say that it hasn’t happened before Cordell is pretty impressive. If he stays healthy and scores at the clip he’s been scoring, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll break the school scoring record, which, given how many great players we’ve had, is a feather in his cap. But it’ll come down to him staying healthy.” – Dubuque Wahlert coach Tom English.
- School: Interstate 35
- Class: 2016
- Height: 5-10
- Position: Guard
Key stats: White led Class 2A in scoring (23.9 points per game), assists (7.8) and steals (5.3) last season as the go-to-guy for the Roadrunners. With the high usage rate, he managed to shoot 55 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range and lead 2A in free throw attempts (192). He averaged 16.8 points per game as a sophomore behind his older brother Jamal, but took I-35 from eight wins to 17 last season.
College choices: Recent offers have come from D-II schools Missouri Western and University of Mary, with other D-III and junior college programs checking in. Drake and Creighton have expressed interest in White as a potential walk-on, but he plans to wait until the spring to make a decision.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: I-35 caught lightning in a bottle. White is 2A’s top playmaker and either scored or assisted on more than 50 percent of the team’s points last season. Not only is he at a different level dribbling, passing and attacking the hoop in the Pride of Iowa Conference, he’s by all accounts a standout kid; 4.0 grade point average, student council president, quarterback of the football team, National Honors Society, and occasionally, fill-in babysitter.
“He watches my kids over Christmas break and I’m not joking,” I-35 coach Nate Rankin said. “He’s that kid. My kids love him, my youngest always says he wants a number zero jersey. And his teammates would fall on a sword for him.”
White’s vision is often ahead of the plays his teammates can make, but expectations are high after winning 17 games last season. Small, but strong and quick, White rises up in the Roadrunners’ biggest games, including 30 points and seven assists against 3A Chariton, 19 points and 12 assists versus Pride of Iowa powerhouse Nodaway Valley, and even 16 of the team’s 30 points in a playoff loss to Panorama.
“I’ve been a leader for four years,” White said. “I have to take responsibility for what happens to this team on and off the court. I really enjoy it. I’ve been with the same group of guys with eight or nine years now and they look up to me. I want that responsibility.”
White’s numbers were wild last season, and he’s ready to do even better in his senior campaign.
“He works as hard as any kid you’ve ever seen and he does all the right things on and off the court,” Rankin said. “He’s got a workman’s mentality and that’s why he’s going to be successful wherever he goes. Jaylan is the real deal.”
Quotable: “I’ve been a fan his. He just has such innate ability as a point guard. Over the summer, he just hasn’t been as aggressive and assertive. Jaylan has been trying to showcase his passing ability and ability to manage a game rather than his raw scoring and ability to get to the hoop. I think that’s taken away from how special he can be. Because he’s got the talent to do all those things.” Prep Hoops Iowa recruiting analyst T.J. Rushing
- School: Muscatine
- Class: 2018
- Height: 6-5
- Position: Forward
Key stats: The top returning scorer in 4A is a sophomore. Wieskamp averaged 18.6 points per game last season, tops of all freshmen in the state, and had mature shooting splits of 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 79 percent from the free throw line. Playing primarily in the post, he also led the team with 6.1 rebounds per game.
College choice: Just days after his freshman year ended, Wieskamp committed to Iowa. Interest remains from high-major programs still three seasons from graduation, calls coming most notably from Kentucky, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Why he’s one of the Iowa Eight: Wieskamp’s star is just starting to rise and he’s already the highest-rated prospect in the state. ESPN and Scout have the Muscatine’s prodigious youngster as the No. 19 sophomore in the country.
“I’ve been here seven or eight years and we’re still building a program,” Muscatine coach Brandon Welsch said after Wieskamp committed to Iowa on June 9. “Joe’s is kind of a unique situation for us.”
He performed well out of necessity as a freshman, leading the Muskies in almost every statistical category during a 7-15 season. Cerebral, exceptionally athletic and a diligent worker, Wieskamp expects even better this season.
“Coaches haven’t said they need me to go out and score 25 points per game for us, but obviously it’s in my mind and I just know that I should do that for us to be successful,” he said.
And he’s doing all his work for Muscatine out of position. The Hawkeyes project him as a shooting guard or small forward, but he’s often playing center or protecting the paint for an undersized squad.
“At this point last year I was way more nervous than I am now,” Wieskamp said. “I’m kind taking on a role as if I am a leader of the team and trying to show the younger guys what I can do and what we can do.”
Quotable: “He’s someone I like a lot. He knows how to play, can really shoot the ball and really impressed me in May when I saw him. He’s someone I think has a ton of potential and can be an excellent player for Iowa down the line.” Scout.com national recruiting analyst Brian Snow
JUST MISSED THE IOWA EIGHT
- Will Carius, sr., Pleasant Valley: Northern Michigan commit paced the 4A runner-up in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (8.0) as active 6-6 wing.
- Devontae Lane, jr., Iowa City West: Aggressive and athletic guard became star in summer AAU, was second in scoring (12.9) for Trojans as a sophomore.
- Wali Parks, sr., Iowa City West: Indian Hills commit is active and rangy defender and athletic scorer (10.9 points, 4.8 rebounds) for balanced squad.
- Austin Phyfe, jr., Waverly-Shell Rock: Future UNI post is 6-9 son of former Panther Steve Phyfe, still growing into high ceiling at 13.7 points, 7.9 boards per.
- Turner Scott, sr., Valley: Clutch point guard is Truman State commit. A 5-9 distributor with smooth shot (15.9 points) is 45 percent from 3-point range.
- Josh Van Lingen, sr., Western Christian: Post star for 2A power averaged 19 points and 12.8 boards per game with 32 and 17 at state. Dordt commit.
- Keaton Van Soelen, sr., Des Moines Christian: Lanky 6-6 Air Force signee led Lions in scoring (16.5) as skilled mid-range threat.
ABOUT THE IOWA EIGHT
The Iowa Eight is the Register’s preseason list of the eight best boys’ basketball players in the state of Iowa. Incoming freshmen through seniors are eligible. The team is selected based on Register staff observations and consultation with high school, college and recruiting contacts. The Register will have additional Iowa Eight lists for key boys’ and girls’ sports throughout the year.