KEOTA — With the high school boys basketball season about to officially begin, at least one Union area team has its eyes set on a serious postseason run and they boast the firepower to do it.
Keota’s JD Stout returns for his senior season as the Eagles’ career scoring leader, career 3-point leader and season scoring record as well as a member of the school’s sprint medley record team in track.
Those records are not playing in his mind when he is on the court.
“I just try to do about whatever I can do to get the ‘W’,” Stout said. “That is what I worry about. That is what we preach around here.”
The Eagles won enough last season to place second in the South Iowa Cedar League East Division, but lost in the first round of the postseason to Burlington Notre Dame 92-66.
Offense has been a main sermon topic in the past as the Eagles averaged nearly 70 points a game last season with Stout’s average at 28.4. The team allowed 56.6 in a season that ended with a 12-8 record.
“Last year, we could score but we couldn’t stop people,” Keota head coach and JD’s father Dan Stout said. “We kind of lost out on our fundamentals last year because we focused so much on our offense and getting quick shots. I take the blame for it. I told the kids on the first day of practice, ‘It’s my fault,’ but it’s not going to be this year.”
The message seems to be getting through.
“We want our defense to be better than last year,” said Luke Hammen, a 6-foot-1 junior who averaged 9.1 points and 3.5 rebounds last season. “That’s the main thing we are going to be working on. Our defense last year was a little iffy. I’ve been doing a lot of work in practice and working on man-to-man defense.”
Specifics on how to improve on defense have been a priority for the Eagles in the first week of practice.
“Mainly we want to improve our help defense and improve on our one on one,” Coach Stout said. “You have to stop your guy, but also be in a position to help. We did not do that very well last year. If we can do that that, it will help when we play our zone defense. That’s where we are at.”
If executed properly, a good defense will lead to offensive production.
“Last year we went for 70, 75 points and would get beat,” Coach Stout said. “At this level, if you score 70 points a night, we should win all of our games. Occasionally a team will get hot, but you have to be able to defend. Plus defense can fuel an offense. We get steals, we get layups, there’s our scoring. That’s what we are focused on and working on. If we can get turnovers, then we are shooting layups and there’s our offense.”
Stout’s average of 28.4 points a game was third in Class 1A last season.
With other teams’ knowledge of his scoring ability, they will be focused on shutting him down.
“We will just run our offense and see what we can do,” Coach Stout said. “JD and I have talked about this and he has to get everybody else involved more. That’s what he wants to do.”
That will be his job as the Eagles’ point guard.
“He wants to improve his assists,” the coach said. “We have other guys that could step up and shoot the ball. If those guys can get to the basket for that, that will open things up for JD. With guys spaced out here, it is going to be tough to double-team JD. That is what we are hoping for.”
Another guy who will be counted on to provide spacing and scoring is Carson Sprouse, a 6-foot junior with averages of 9.5 points a game, almost two rebounds and two assists last season.
“I have put in a lot of offseason work on my shot,” Sprouse said. “My dad (Jeff Sprouse, who is the Keota girls coach) had me do programs throughout the year. I start shooting at the free-throw line and work my way out. I have been working on shooting off the dribble. Our offense is more of a constant motion but we do have set plays. It just depends on who’s in and who we are playing against.”
“I don’t think teams will be able to sag off of us in a zone because we will just stand out there and shoot threes and hopefully we make them,” Coach Stout said.
JD Stout did not go out for baseball last season so that he could work on all facets of his game.
He has been playing in a fall league on the weekends in Iowa City against kids from bigger schools.
“That prepared me to play against taller, bigger kids. I wanted to focus on my game and develop my game. I think I’ve gotten better at the defensive end. I’ve gotten better at being able to go both directions because I developed my right hand. And that fine-tuned some of the other aspects of my game.”
Playing in the smallest class, the Eagles won’t face a lot of tall post players. Juniors Brady Duwa, 6-foot-3, and Wyatt Sieren, 6-foot-2, will be counted on for muscle on the inside.
“We don’t have a lot of big guys in our league. Brady and Wyatt have gotten stronger and quicker and faster,” Coach Stout said. “That will help them get to the basket. With the offense we run, we just bring everybody out, try to beat them off the dribble and score.”
“We don’t have a big tall guy, so we will have to play sound defense when we face those kind of teams,” JD Stout said. “As long as we are getting shots, we will be in good shape.”
“We all could score however we make it,” Hammen said. “It doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we win.”
There is a couple philosophies on how important it is to win in the regular season. One says all the regular season results are immaterial. Another says the regular season will shape a team’s postseason.
Often teams will build toward the postseason because that’s when wins count the most. However, Iowa High School Athletic Association seeds and maps the postseason according to how well a team does in the regular season.
“We want to win all our games, then we are going to get a bye and get to play teams that aren’t as good,” JD Stout said. “Last year we had Burlington Notre Dame in a four-five matchup and we knew it would be a tough game. We want to be at conference champs. That is our main goal to start out with. That will help us advance further after we win that.”
Montezuma was the SICL champion last year and finished fourth in 1A. Keota lost 83-68 to the Braves, who finished fourth at the state tournament.
“We felt that we could play with them,” JD Stout said. “They got some guys coming back that I’m friends with, but I think we can beat them this year.”
“My plan this year is to be winning,” Hammen said. “We’re not worried about the postseason yet. We’re just getting ready for our first game.”