Greatness is a relatively subjective term. It can apply to several different facets of our society.
Although typically associated with record-breaking accomplishments and supreme ability, greatness can also be applied to a feeling or atmosphere.
The greatness of the Newton boys’ basketball teams will not show up on any stat sheet or box score. The whole program, highlighted by the 9-13 varsity Cardinals’ team, has an air of greatness in that they are a great community.
The program held its annual banquet to culminate the teams’ collective seasons on Friday night, and through all of the game recaps, anecdotes and awkward coach speeches, there was a terrific sense of togetherness.
This was no more evident than when varsity coach Nick Wilkins called each senior up individually to pore over how much each player had meant to the team, while giving each of them an often humorous, but also telling nickname in the process.
The team’s seniors — Austin Hopwood, Michael Miller, Jacob Hill, Jessie Bates, Andrew Clements and Collin Reynolds — came up to the podium to stand beside their coach one after another. Wilkins told stories and gave his most heartfelt gratitude.
Hopwood — “the eager one” — was fairly new to the game of basketball.
“I call Austin the eager one because no matter the drill or situation, he was always the guy to jump in head first — even if he had no idea what we were doing,” Wilkins said.
Hopwood’s senior season only included four games of playing time, but that was not for lack of effort. He was a multi-sport athlete for Newton, and although new to the game, it was clear his teammates welcomed his effort in practice. He was a vital part in helping his teammates prepare for the tough games ahead.
Miller — “the quiet one” — played in every one of Newton’s games this season. He provided a big body for the Cardinals, and was the team’s fifth leading rebounder with a total of 62 for the season. Miller provided his teammates with some tenacious defending as well with his minutes off the bench.
Hill — “the wise one” — was dubbed so because of his proficiency for making the smart play on the floor. This is evident in his season stat line. He was third on the team with 31 assists, and with fewer than 30 turnovers, he had one of the more efficient assist to turnover ratios for the Cardinals, making him a trustworthy handler of the ball. Hill also pulled in 28 rebounds in his senior campaign.
Bates — “the smooth one” — was named such for his athletic ability.
“He often looked lazy out there, but that’s just because his athleticism made everything he was doing look so easy,” Wilkins said.
Jesse always went up against the biggest guys in the conference, and his athleticism made it so I felt comfortable with those matchups.” Bates led the Cardinals with 88 rebounds in his senior season. He led the team in rebounds six different times and had a season high of nine in the team’s game at Marshalltown on Dec. 10. Bates was also the Cardinals’ third leading scorer, averaging 6.4 points per game.
Clements — “the energizer” — started the season as the team’s point guard, but was removed from the role in favor of sophomore Nick Easley early on, and he moved to shooting guard. “Andrew never complained,” Wilkins said. “He never said ‘this is stupid’ or anything like that. He was part of the team and that’s all that mattered for him.” Clements was known for his high motor. Clements finished second on the team in assists with 42 and led the team in steals with 24. He was yet another great athlete to add to the team, playing football and also running track. Clements recently signed a scholarship to play football for Grand View.
Finally Reynolds — “the crafty one” — finished second on the team in rebounds, but by far and away was the team’s leading offensive rebounder with 51 on the season. Those offensive rebounds were crucial in keeping possessions alive for Newton, allowing them an additional opportunity to score as well as run clock if they were ahead at the time. His best game of the year came in a narrow loss on Jan. 8 at Grinnell. Reynolds had 14 points on six of eight shooting to go along with seven rebounds, and in typical fashion, five of those rebounds were offensive.
Wilkins talked about how his team responded to all the challenges he put them up against this season.
“You know, coming into the season, I thought if we could get seven wins, it would be a great year. We got nine,” Wilkins said. “I didn’t make it easy for the kids. I took off some of the weaker teams on our schedule and replaced them with the more perrennial contenders in our region, because that’s the only way we’re going to see real improvement. And these guys responded far beyond my expectations. I’m so proud of the work they put in, especially on defense, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys.”
The team’s leader in points on the season was junior sharpshooter Tyler Wood. Wood had a season high 22 points against Oskaloosa to go along with another season high of 10 rebounds. Easley led the Cardinals in assists with 52, leading the team in nine different games.