The 2019-20 Union area boys basketball season was full of promise and, as always in sports, disappointment.
Keota had dreams of making the state tournament with school career points leader JD Stout returning. A loss to South Iowa Cedar League rival sidelined the Eagles’ quest. Stout was named captain of the initial All-Union small-school boys basketball team.
WACO was within an overtime loss of the state tournament last season and returned leading scorer Nik Coble, then added foreign exchange student Pietro Vannini. The Warriors ascended to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll with an undefeated season, but lost in the postseason in a district semifinal. Coble and coach Paul Kissell were named to the inaugural small school All-Union team.
New London had big postseason plans last year before falling to WACO and the Tigers returned the upset this year behind All-Union selection Grant Swanson.
Highland welcomed new coach Bill Zywiec who helped the Huskies to a second-place conference finish behind All-Union selection Zack Lasek.
Behind coach John Swanson, Pekin rebounded from a last-second loss in last year’s postseason to get within a game of state this year. Swanson was a strong consideration for coach of the All-Union small school boys team. Panthers point guard Brady Millikin was selected.
Iowa Mennonite School changed its name to Hillcrest Academy but remained strong on the basketball floor behind Eli Ours, who was selected to the All-Union team.
Paul Kissell, WACO
The 2019-20 WACO boys basketball team didn’t end where the Warriors wanted it to, but it was a heck of a ride along the way.
The Warriors won an incredible 22 games in a row to begin the season. Kissell’s senior-led squad rose to the No. 2 team in Class 1A and won the Southeast Iowa Super Conference before an untimely departure from the postseason, falling in the district semifinals against New London.
Although John Swanson’s Pekin Panthers made the biggest run in the postseason, the WACO head coach gets the nod to lead the All-Union team in 2019-20.
JD Stout, senior, Keota
A scoring machine, the Eagle point guard could score from anywhere on the court, often driving headlong into the lane for a tough layup or stepping back to can a long-range jumper. Stout was second in the state, regardless of class, in scoring with an average of 29.1 points per game in the 2019-20 season. The 6-footer led the Eagles to a 20-4 record this season.
Stout made 250 of 451 field goal attempts for a 55.4 percentage. He nailed 65 of 171 3-pointers for 38 percent. Stout rarely missed a free throw, canning 133-of-157 for 84.7 percent. He had 89 rebounds for a 3.7 average, 70 assists to 61 turnovers and 42 steals.
Keota lost in a district final to Montezuma, which lost in the state semifinals, but won the third-place game.
Stout holds a number of records for the Eagles and is the career scoring leader. He was a first team pick for All-State in Class 1A.
Nik Coble, senior, WACO
WACO’s senior post has been “Mr. Everything” since he first found the court in a varsity game. The 6-foot-7 Coble led the Warriors in every single statistical category in 2019-20.
Coble scored 14.6 points per game in his senior year. He also pulled down 305 rebounds, fourth-most in Class 1A, dished out a team-leading 114 assists, and also led the squad with 62 assists and 41 blocked shots.
The career rebounding leader for the Warriors, Coble had 66 more rebounds than the second leading rebounder in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference South Division. He collected an average of 13.3 rebounds per game. That total was third in Class 1A and the average was second in the class. His 90 offensive rebounds was the third-best total in the class and his total of 215 defensive boards was fourth.
Coble helped lead the Warriors to only their third undefeated regular season in school history, and will go down as one of the best WACO hoopers in memory. He was a second team pick for All-State in Class 1A.
Zack Lasek, senior, Highland
At 6 feet, 7 inches, Lasek was a dominating force for the Huskies. Lasek averaged a block a game while handing out three assists per contest in a successful season that ended in a district final with a 20-5 record.
Lasek controlled the boards with an average of 10.3 a game for a total of 257 rebounds, 57 more than the next best in the SEISC North Division and the ninth best total in Class 1A. He poured in 418 points (second in the North) for an average of 16.7 a game. He made 151-of-281 field goal attempts for a percentage of 53.7. He led the North in free throw attempts (173) and free throws made (106).
Brady Millikin, junior, Pekin
Millikin was an All-Union selection for cross-country and makes the basketball team with his 13.3 points a game and his 5.41 assists per game. His 130 total assists was second in the SEISC North Division and his steal total of 52 was sixth. His assist to turnover ratio was 2.5-to-1 at 130-to-53. He shot nearly as well from deep as he did from within the arc, hitting 63-of-142 3-pointers for 44.4 percent and 43 of 91 2-pointers for 47.3 percent. He made 77.2 percent of his free throws.
Millikin helped Pekin win the North Division with just one loss (to Hillcrest Academy) and get within one game of the state tournament, finishing the year with a 19-5 record.
Grant Swanson, senior, New London
The New London boys basketball team lost six of its top seven players from last season, and they were still one of the best basketball teams in Southeast Iowa in 2019-20. Swanson was a predictable breakout star in the SEISC South Division and he didn’t disappoint.
Swanson finished the year with a team-high 17.8 points per game. He led the team with 193 rebounds and led the entire South Division with 56 blocked shots. He also finished with 44 steals and 38 assists.
Not only did Swanson help the Tigers continue to be a big player in the South Division in 2019-20, but he helped bridge the gap as a new wave of New London stars arise in the lower classes.
Eli Ours, junior, Hillcrest Academy
The newly-named Ravens have been a traditional power on the basketball floor under coach Dwight Gingerich. Ours, a 5-foot-11 junior, helped Hillcrest to an 11-10 record this year with an 18 points per game average, third best in the SEISC North Division. He shot 35.2 percent from 3-point land and 45 percent overall from the field. He sank 74 percent of his 96 free throws. Ours was the Ravens only deep threat as he made 50 from downtown while the next highest total was four. He handed out almost four assists per game and swiped about three steals per game. His assist total of 78 was fifth in the division and his 60 steals were fourth.
The 2019-20 All-Union small school basketball team was selected by Southeast Iowa Union sports editors Andy Krutsinger and Doug Brenneman.