IOWA CITY — Somewhere out there is what their coach calls the perfect game.
If the Iowa City West Trojans want motivation this season, other than winning another Class 4A state basketball championship, they’ve got it. If they want a cure for possible complacency, there it is.
OK, guys, play the perfect game. Whatever that might be.
“I think we have things we can really improve upon, so I’ve given them those things,” West Coach Steve Bergman said. “It’s not going to be easy, people are going to be shooting for us. They’ve been hearing lots of positive things, but they need to filter those out and just work at being better players. We didn’t play a perfect game last year. We played well, but we never played a perfect game.”
That’s despite a perfect season. West went 26-0, rolling all three of its opponents at the state tournament by more than 20 points.
Virtually every player is back from that team, the key exception being starting forward Jake Gylten. There are three Division I college players in forward Jeremy Morgan (Northern Iowa) and guards Dondre Alexander (Southern Mississippi) and Wyatt Lohaus (Northern Iowa): two first-team all-staters and a third-teamer.
Center Myzeah Batie-Gaddy and sharp-shooting guard Austin Swank are among the other important returning players. Bergman is as good as it gets as a coach.
Roll out the balls and give West another trophy? These guys say it’s not going to be quite that easy.
“Our mindset is we still work hard, like we did last year,” said Alexander, who averaged a team-best 16 points last season. “Don’t take any team, any opponent, for granted, and play our game. We know that every game, the pressure is on our backs. So we want to (play well enough) to switch it around and put it on their back. Just keep going.”
Hard to believe it was three years ago that Alexander and Morgan were precocious freshmen playing varsity. They’ve been good friends since Alexander moved to Iowa City from Chicago in middle school.
Lohaus is a year younger but always has been a part of the mix, too. His father Brad, played college basketball with Morgan’s dad, Michael, at the University of Iowa.
“Donde and I played against each other in junior high, then he started playing with me on the same AAU team in the summer,” Jeremy Morgan said. “I would agree, we do have good chemistry. Me and Dondre, we’ve been best friends ever since he moved here. Then me and Wyatt go way back to kindergarten. I remember he was at my kindergarten birthday party.”
Bergman was asked to give scouting reports on his big three.
“Jeremy is a really skilled kid who has just grown,” he said. “He’s always had those skills, but he’s been waiting for his body to catch up. I always thought he was going to be a good jumper and quick, but sometimes that takes awhile. This summer, everybody saw it (happen). He started dunking easily, getting by people offensively. He’s a guy who can do it all now. Whereas, even a year ago, he had to add to that.
“Dondre has always been the explosive, athletic guy. He and Jeremy are about as competitive of kids as I’ve ever coached. I don’t let them go against each other in practice very much because it gets a little testy sometimes. Dondre has really accepted ‘I want to guard the best players.’ Jeremy is getting there. They both like to win, more than anything.
“Wyatt fits right in with them. He’s just a real cerebral player. His skills are excellent, and now he is growing into his body. He will look very different than he looked last year. Next year, I imagine he’ll look even bigger.”
But this isn’t next year. Another perfect season would seem to cement this team’s status as one of the finest Iowa has seen at the big-school level.
There’s that. Then there’s the search for the perfect game.
“These guys, they’re not scared of anything,” Bergman said. “That’s one thing about them. They’re not scared of a thing. Put them up against anyone, they’re going to think they’ve got a chance to beat them. That’s a good thing. Now they’ve just got to prepare. Believing and being confident is one thing. But you’ve got to do all the work to be good.”
“We’ve got to go out and make every game count,” Morgan said. “The motivation for ourselves is to do it again. We had the goal right at the end of the season last year that we want to be in the same position this year.”
It’s hard to bet against them.