First-year head coach Jeremy Blake and his Nodaway Valley boys are hungry for success entering the 2021-22 basketball season.
The Wolverines go into the season, which starts Monday, Nov. 29 in a home game against non-conference opponent Clarinda, with two of their top scorers back from last season, anticipated quickness and an ability to apply pressure defensively.
“I’ve got high expectations. I’ve got a good group of guys,” Blake said. “We’re going to keep building our leadership, which is a big piece of that for me.”
Returning starters are senior Nathan Russell and juniors Avery Phillippi and Boston DeVault.
Off the bench frequently last year was Matthew Weber, now a senior.
Phillippi averaged 13.3 points per game (ppg) last year — the most of anyone returning — and was 46.2% from 3-point land and 46.2% shooting free throws. DeVault averaged 9.7 ppg, canning 45 3-pointers last year.
Phillippi, who has put on noticeable size and was listed on the football roster at 6 feet, 200 pounds, hopes to use that to his advantage this season.
“I kind of look at myself as a big guard,” he said. “Something I really worked on a lot in the offseason was ball handling. I’ve worked on shooting off the dribble and my catch and shoot. I’m hoping I can get in the paint, then dominate in the paint when I can.”
A big point for DeVault early in the year is that the team should set high goals, like finishing highly in the Pride of Iowa Conference and even making it to state.
“We want to make it to state and play well as a team,” DeVault said.
DeVault added that he’s gotten a lot more confident as he’s gotten more time on the court.
“Once you continue to progress and you’re older, the confidence comes and you can play a lot smoother and confidently,” he said.
Russell shot 62.5% from the charity stripe last year, averaging 3 ppg. Weber averaged 3.5 per game.
“We don’t have much height this year, but offensively I think we should be pretty good this year and a good shooting team,” Weber commented. “On defense, our big guys will just have to come in, double team them and take care of business.”
Russell had a successful season at quarterback in football and doesn’t see the philosophy much different going into basketball.
“I feel like we’re quick guys and can all play all five positions on the court,” Russell said. “Just like in football, it’s about getting the ball to the guys who can make plays. I’m just ready to do my part and hopefully we can get some wins.”
The potential doesn’t stop with underclassmen, as Blake noted that Dawson Nelson is a promising sophomore who will likely see more varsity minutes this year than last year.
Blake wants to go up tempo if possible on offense. His goal is for the group to play to their strengths, putting shooters in high percentage positions and ball handlers in spots where they can distribute the ball efficiently to open shooters.
“I’m wanting us to get up and down the floor and be tough and hard-nosed in man-to-man defense,” Blake said. “I’ve been telling kids already that you can’t be good in zone if you don’t have your man principles. You can’t be good at junk defenses if you don’t have your man principles.”
Blake takes over for co-head coaches Darrell Burmeister and James Larson this season, coming to Nodaway Valley from a teaching and coaching position at Atlantic. He teaches middle school special education at NV.
Blake was an assistant coach with the Atlantic boys basketball program for 10 years and was a part of a state tournament trip the Trojans had in 2017.
“It actually started when I was a senior in high school and I got hurt. We only had one coach so I helped the post players,” Blake said.
Blake played junior college hoops at Phoenix College, but health prohibited him from continuing, so he continued as a student assistant coach there and eventually transitioned into an assistant coach role. Blake coached for three years at the high school level in Arizona before coming to Atlantic and valued the time he had with the Trojans.
“I always laugh because in Coach [Alan] Jenkins’ first season I was the freshman coach and we didn’t win a single game. I got promoted the next year to junior varsity, but I always remind people that the freshman group I had that year was the group that took us to the state tournament their senior year,” Blake said. “It’s neat to see that growth.”
Blake said the Nodaway Valley job opening “piqued his interest” because of the history the Wolverines have in the sport, built in large part by Burmeister.
“It’s crazy to think I am only the second coach in Nodaway Valley’s history,” Blake said. “When you reflect on that, there’s big shoes to fill, and that’s very true with what Coach B has done. He’s got these kids doing things the right way. I just want to expand on that.”