CEDAR RAPIDS — He loves to reminisce about the old days.
Mike Hilmer would take his son, Jake, and a bunch of North Linn kids around the state to play in these youth basketball tournaments. No opponent would be too big.
In fact, it was the bigger, the better. That’s the way they preferred it.
“We’ve talked about all the games we played against the Xaviers and the Waukees, the Kingdom Hoops and all that,” Hilmer said. “We were the small 1A school. Everybody had these nice $70 jerseys, and we had the $12 practice jerseys on. People would laugh at us when we came in the gym.”
They wouldn’t laugh when they watched those kids play because they could play. They always held their own, many times more than that.
Those tournaments would be the genesis of something special when Jake Hilmer, Ryan Miller, Trevor Boge, David Seber and others got to high school. North Linn made three consecutive appearances at the state tournament, capped by last week’s Class 2A championship.
Hilmer, Boge, Seber and fellow senior Carter Johnson finished their prep careers with a 102-4 record. Half of those losses came at state, another in a district game.
“We’ve lost one regular-season game in four years, and that’s just incredible,” Hilmer said. “You look back at all the time they put in, and it’s pretty rewarding.”
Hilmer has been named The Gazette’s 2019 Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year. He’ll actually share the honor with his father, Bob, who is North Linn’s co-coach.
Bob Hilmer, who coached at WACO from 2001-15 is the state’s all-time winningest boys’ coach. Mike is 371-234 in 27 seasons at North Linn, Estherville-Lincoln Central and Lincoln Central.
“We’re pretty lucky,” Mike Hilmer. “We’ve got a lot of special players on this team.”
One of them, Jake Hilmer, is The Gazette’s Player of the Year. That was a no-brainer, considering he was named co-winner of the Mr. Basketball award earlier this week with Bettendorf’s D.J. Carton.
The other nine all-area players are Iowa City West’s Patrick McCaffery, Cedar Rapids Prairie twin brothers Keegan and Kris Murray, Central City’s Nick Reid, Montezuma’s Trey Shearer, Linn-Mar’s Trey Hutcheson, Iowa City Regina’s Masen Miller, Maquoketa’s A.J. Becker and West Delaware’s Derek Krogmann.
North Linn placed second in Class 1A last season, losing a close game in the finals to Grand View Christian. It moved up a class this season but never skipped a proverbial beat.
The Lynx rolled through the regular season 20-0, piling up points thanks to an insane offensive pace and full-court pressure defense. North Linn scored 103 points in its first postseason game, but their final five games were much more of the lower-scoring, half-court variety.
It trailed at halftime to a very good Dyersville Beckman team but survived, 55-43. Then it took out defending 2A champ Cascade in the substate finals.
North Linn won its first state tourney game comfortably over Des Moines Christian, beat Van Meter in the semifinals, 54-47, and Boyden-Hull in the finals, 60-41. Jake Hilmer had a team-high 20 points in the championship game, but it was a team effort, with Boge scoring 17 and keying a third-quarter rally.
The Lynx finished perfection with five players averaging double figures in scoring: Hilmer, Seber, Boge, Austin Miller and freshman Austin Hilmer, Mike’s youngest son.
“We lost some key pieces from last year,” Jake Hilmer said. “Some guys who were really big contributors. We knew we had to have some guys step up this year if we wanted to repeat the success. Not only did we have step up into those roles and fill those guys’ shoes, but they’ve done it and taken it up a notch.”