It’s well known across Iowa that the Muscatine boys basketball team features arguably the best player in the state and one of the best scorers Iowa high school basketball has ever seen in senior Joe Wieskamp.
The senior currently sits at 1,573 points and will likely pass Ricky Davis’ 1,619 points to become the Mississippi Athletic Conference’s all-time leading scorer. He will also likely become the third boys basketball player in Iowa to reach 2,000 points in Class 4A.
But what is relatively unknown is what Muscatine will be able to put around the consensus top 60 recruit and Iowa signee. That remains a mystery at this moment to everybody, even second-year head coach Gary Belger, who said he “really doesn’t know” what kind of team the Muskies will be.
“It’s kind of a mystery right now,” Belger said. “I could have a feel if we had everybody and were in rhythm. Even the three regulars, they’ve never played with these guys coming in. I guess we’ll be a team that’s pretty long defensively, makes shots tough, gets offensive boards and finishes plays. That’s what the hope is.”
The reason for that mystery can be traced back to Belger’s comments at the Mississippi Athletic Conference luncheon on Nov. 17 when he said the Muskies had a “disastrous summer” and didn’t put the work in.
There were some exceptions, as Belger said participation among his freshmen was great and didn’t rule out the possibility that some may have a chance to contribute on varsity this season. Belger also singled out the work senior Lex Hahn put in during the summer.
But for the most part, Belger wasn’t satisfied with the commitment level of his players, and as a result, he thinks the Muskies will be playing catch-up to begin the season.
With 10 of their first 12 games on the road they have little time for that, but Wieskamp said that can’t change how they approach each game.
“I know how much that’s going to cost us,” Belger said. “But we’ve got to revert now and catch up. We probably won’t get better until well after Christmas, but I have every belief that we’re going to be a successful team come tournament time.”
For now, Belger knows it’s going to be a process, as basic fundamentals such as shooting and ball handling are both glaring weaknesses, which he said is partially due to not working in the offseason.
Despite returning three starters in seniors Jackson Foulk, Bryce Howard and Wieskamp, the Muskies’ supporting cast is up in the air.
Outside of losing second-leading scorer Jake Mussehl and contributor Derrick Woepking, the Muskies also lost their third- and fourth-leading scorers in Garrett Mueller and Marquan Sorrells.
Sorrells no longer lives in Muscatine, while Mueller opted not to go out for the team in his senior season. As a result, Muscatine’s success will largely depend on how the players around Wieskamp perform while he sees double-teams most nights.
“We need them to play fundamentally sound,” Belger said. “In other words, don’t do things they aren’t capable of. Just do basic things, get an offensive rebound, play solid defense, and when they double Joe cut to the basket and hit the open shot.
“Last year we probably shot the 3-pointer as well as anybody in the state, but we don’t have that this year.”
However, Belger reiterated that he still feels strongly that his team, which will feature good size and rim protection, will be a good team when it matters most.
“I’m going to make them a good team,” Belger said. “I’ve never lost. Unless we have major injuries we’ll get better.”