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muskies team

The Muscatine boys basketball team celebrates its 58-55 victory against Linn-Mar in last Tuesday's Class 4A substate final at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. 

Dave Chesling, Muscatine Journal

Muscatine senior Antonio Melendez remembers the question, but no one on the team had an answer.

What are we preparing you guys for?

Melendez, a sixth grader at the time, had just won a championship with several of his current teammates on the Muscatine boys basketball team.

The director of the tournament asked the question.

"We all didn't know the answer because we were so young," Melendez said. "He said, 'We're preparing you for high school basketball, so when you guys get there, you can make it to state there.'"

As Melendez celebrated a substate final win over Linn-Mar last Tuesday with several teammates he had been friends with since the third grade, the memory resurfaced.

"It kind of was like a little bit of a déjà vu moment for me," Melendez said. "Just on that court, getting the banner and looking at all that purple in the crowd, and our parents knowing that they were with us throughout all this. It was very cool."

The core group, also known as the starting five for the Muskies, that has been together since they were third graders includes Melendez, Joe Wieskamp, Lex Hahn, Jackson Foulk and Josh Hutton.

While they didn't all attend the same grade school, the group began forming an inseparable bond through travel soccer, baseball and, of course, basketball.

"We have a great chemistry," Hutton said. "We know where people are going to be. We know what our strengths and weaknesses are. That's huge."

Added Wieskamp, "We've just always been a close-knit group, always been best friends throughout. To be able to play with these guys, it's always been fun."

As they grew older, their friendship stayed intact, but their time together on the court began diminishing.

Melendez began allocating more of his attention toward soccer. He left for Kansas City during his sophomore year to play for a Major League Soccer developmental academy.

Back in Muscatine, Wieskamp immediately became a starter on varsity as a freshman. But Foulk didn't begin seeing regular playing time until his junior season, and minutes were sparse for Hahn and Hutton through last year. Those two both averaged under a point per game and both finished the season with fewer than 20 shot attempts.

Getting all five back on the team together for their senior season seemed like a long shot. All five of them starting together was probably about as likely as Hutton's half-court heave going in at the buzzer in the first quarter against Davenport North in the substate semifinal.

Yet, both managed to happen in what has turned into a storybook season for Muscatine.

After losing three starters from last year's team, the Muskies had gaps to fill.

One of the first steps was convincing Melendez to give it one last go in a sport he hadn't played since his freshman year.

"When I came back (to Muscatine), Joe, Jack and Josh really pushed it for me to play basketball again here for this senior year knowing that we possibly had a chance to go to state," Melendez said. "There was a point where I wasn't sure that I was going to do it.

"Now that I decided to do it, and now that we are going to state, I'm really glad that I decided to go out for basketball again."

While Wieskamp has provided jaw-dropping performances on a nightly basis, Hutton, Hahn, Foulk, Melendez and Bryce Howard have all delivered in key moments throughout the season.

Most recently, it was Hahn and Hutton who provided a crucial spark after the Muskies fell behind by six points in the fourth quarter against Linn-Mar last Tuesday.

"We have a good chemistry together, and that helps a lot," Hahn said. "Last year I thought we had better players, but this year we have more chemistry."

When they step onto the court Tuesday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines for a 6:30 p.m. state quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 Iowa City West, they won't just have one another to lean on.

They'll have a coaching staff that convinced them before the season started that this moment would come to life.

They'll also have an entire community behind them that has never let up in its support throughout an up-and-down season that has included its fair share of highs and lows.

"The support we've gotten from the community and the high school has been unreal," Foulk said. "You can see that through the preparation for the game at Wells. We have six pep buses going up so far. We've sold over 1,000 T-shirts.

"The support we've gotten from the community is just a dream come true for all of us." 


Sports Reporter