The common theme among the 32 boys’ basketball teams that reached Wells Fargo Arena for the 2017 state tournament was simple. All of them fielded players who were both efficient and versatile.
The game of basketball, at all levels, is trending away from traditional lineups and more toward putting the best five players on the court. The Des Moines Register’s All-Iowa boys’ basketball selections reflect that movement, as versatility abounds among the Elite picks.
A ready-made example is Waverly-Shell Rock’s Austin Phyfe. The 6-foot-10 senior terrorized opponents to the tune of 66.8 percent shooting, a state-best 337 rebounds and 68 assists. Phyfe led the Go-Hawks to third place at the Class 3A state tournament, where he also flashed the ability to shoot the 3-pointer.
A Northern Iowa recruit, Phyfe hit on seven of 12 shots from behind the arc, the most made in the 3A tournament. When he drained one from the top of the key, his opponents looked to their coaches, who could only shrug in response.
When defenders closed in the next time, he facilitated the offense instead.
“It changes everything when you have a player like that on the floor,” Waverly-Shell Rock coach Nate Steege said. “You look at all the teams that have success over time, and there’s always a special player involved … we don’t get anywhere close without him.
“It was really his team this year. He bought into his role. He kind of put the rest of the team on his back at the state tournament.”
The rest of the Elite Team can say the same. In addition to Phyfe, the other selections were Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s Joe Smoldt, Muscatine’s Joe Wieskamp, and Connor McCaffery and Devontae Lane, who both hail from Iowa City West.
All five, as well as the rest of those chosen to the Register’s All-Iowa boys’ basketball teams, will be honored at the Des Moines Register’s Sports Awards come June 24. All All-Iowa honorees, from the Elite selections down to those chosen as honorable mentions, are invited free of charge. Their schools will receive RSVP information in the coming weeks.
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The five who made the Elite Team stood out because of their unique abilities to do many things well. Muscatine’s Wieskamp found in-state fame thanks to his large scoring outputs. As the season progressed, though, he flashed the ability to do so much more.
While his 30.4 points per game led the state, Wieskamp’s 224 rebounds was the third-highest total in 4A. Even more, he was the only player in 4A to record at least 40 steals and 40 blocks, showing that his defense was nearly just as effective as his offense.
“Vital,” Muscatine coach Gary Belger said of Wieskamp’s importance. “We sometimes put him at the point or in the post — sometimes in the same sequence. And he was almost always doubled, but he always finished plays, no matter how crowded the basket was.”
Wieskamp almost carried Muscatine to its first state berth since 2002, but the Muskies ran into Iowa City West in the substate final. The Trojans boast two Elite selections in Lane and McCaffery, and their play was key in leading West to its seventh state championship.
McCaffery and Lane both scored in double figures while shooting north of 50 percent. But even more, both seniors finished among Class 4A’s top 10 in assists — Lane dished out 103 while McCaffery dished out another 96. They helped facilitate the second-best offense in 4A.
“I believe they’re among the best two players in Iowa,” Iowa City West coach Steve Bergman said, “and that’s a luxury most coaches don’t have. They were in charge of everything this year. They were our leaders. They were the backbone, because most everybody else was brand-new.
“Connor, especially, has had a lot to do with our success. As a freshman, we couldn’t have him off the floor at times. Devontae is a unique defensive player. Both are two of the best passers I’ve ever coached, and shot the ball really well this year.”
And then there’s Smoldt, perhaps the most consistent player of the bunch over the last few years. Smoldt has been a key player for a Gladbrook-Reinbeck squad that’s won 100 games over the past four years. During that stretch, the Rebels placed first, fourth and second at the Class 1A state tournament.
Smoldt’s numbers this year were as impressive as those of his Elite teammates. He put up 29.8 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting. He hit on 49.1 percent of his 3-pointers. He also hauled in 137 rebounds, dished out 143 assists and recorded 77 steals.
“He was just so efficient every game,” Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach Scott Kiburis said. “His ability to score as much as he did, and get the rest of his team involved, while facing different defenses every single night was just incredible.
“He just understands the game of basketball so well. He was always communicating with me and his teammates. We never took him out of the game until it was out of reach. There’s a reason he was voted the state’s all-tournament team captain three years in a row.”
That kind of efficiency paid off in a multitude of ways for Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and the rest of the players selected had the same impact on their teams, too. That’s what leads to successful basketball nowadays — the ability to do a lot of things … and to do them well.
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
SPORTS AWARDS INFO
The Register is inviting about 800 of Iowa’s best high school athletes to the Des Moines Register Sports Awards on June 24. Those athletes will receive a free ticket to the event, which is headlined by celebrity speaker Shaquille O’Neal.
When: June 24; Doors open at 7 p.m. Event begins at 8 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Ticket info: General admission tickets are currently on sale at sportsawards.desmoinesregister.com. They are $35, plus processing fees. Concessions will be available at the ceremony.