SIOUX CITY | Ras Vanderloo feels it takes three things to win a Class 4A state boys basketball tournament game – defense, rebounding and toughness.
Vanderloo’s East squad has it. Heading into Wednesday's 12:15 p.m. game at Wells Fargo Arena against Cedar Falls (18-5), the 21-5 Black Raiders are at state for a second straight year, in part due to a defense that yielded 51.8 points per game.
Paced on the boards by 6-foot-6 senior Van Rees (17.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg), a three-year starter who has nine double-doubles, the three-time Missouri River Activities Conference champions outrebounded a majority of its opponents. Two more returning starters from last year’s third-place team, 6-5 senior Sam Hildahl (6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and 6-2 junior Aidan Vanderloo (16.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) are also strong on the boards along with 6-6 junior reserve Javonte Keck (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg).
In terms of toughness, it was certainly defined in the 63-59 substate championship win over Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln. Rees had 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Keck added 17 points and 10 boards for a team that rallied from an eight-point first-half deficit.
East then withstood CBAL’s fourth-quarter challenge. Keck’s back-to-back baskets snapped a 44-all tie and sent the Missouri River Activities Conference champions to their 19th state appearance.
“Sometimes, kids get caught up in the bright lights,” said Coach Vanderloo. “We were there last year. Four of our starters were there last year, so it will ease the nerves. Defense and rebounding win championships, offense puts people in the stands. If we want to win, we have to focus on defense and rebounding.
“Some games when we’ve been great, we attribute that win to having the edge on toughness. You have to have toughness, whether you’re an inside player or an outside player. If it’s a physical game, you have to play physical. If you get knocked down, you still have to go to the other end. We’ve done a good job of that all year. The other night against AL, if we weren’t tough, we weren’t going to win. Basketball is a mental game. If you get that down, you’re going to do all right.”
East’s 74.2 scoring average tops the 4A field. Winners in seven of their last eight since a 44-43 MRAC loss to 3A state qualifier Sergeant Bluff-Luton, the Black Raiders are shooting 52 percent.
East boasts three starters shooting over 50 percent – Rees (59.1), Hildahl (58.0) and Vanderloo (54.0). In fact, the nephew of the seventh-year head coach has converted 50 of 91 3-point attempts.
All three of those sharpshooters were starters a year ago along with 6-1 senior Cole Taylor (5.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg). Rounding out the starting lineup is another state veteran, 5-11 junior Jack Peterson (9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) while two reserves, 6-3 sophomore Jaleque Dunson (6.8 ppg) and 6-4 senior Steve Siebersma (1.1 ppg) also experienced playing time at Wells Fargo.
“When you have four starters back from a third-place team, expectations are high,” said Vanderloo, who also lists 5-10 sophomore Sayvion Armstrong (4.6 ppg) in his rotation. “Give the kids credit for working hard in the offseason. This is their reward. We have guys who have won at state. They know they’re up against a tall task, but we like the challenge.”
East will be challenged by 6-3 senior A.J. Green, whose 25.9 scoring average includes a whopping 105 3-point field goals. Green has scored 1,715 career points.
“He’s one of the marquee players in the state," said Vanderloo. "He brings tremendous shooting ability. He can shoot 3s. He can shoot the 15-foot jumper. He’s a very good player in all three phases of the game. It’ll take a team effort to guard him once he gets to the free throw lane. We have to have help.”
Green, who will play next season at Northern Iowa, scored 32 points in the 62-56 substate championship win over Dubuque Hempstead. Held to just four points in a 62-50 semifinal win over Waterloo East, Green got help from 6-4 junior Logan Wolf (12.8 ppg), who erupted for 26 points.
“Green’s our focal point,” said Vanderloo. “We’re going to have a very good game plan going in and in that plan, we’ll develop plans for how to slow him down. He’s a player you’re not to going to stop. We have to slow him down. We need to be on our ‘A’ game going in. We’ll play the game and see what happens.”