CEDAR RAPIDS — To these eyes, nothing about what was witnessed at Tuesday night’s boys’ basketball game between Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Jefferson wasn’t good.
The gym was packed on a weeknight, with the student bodies of both schools well-represented at Jefferson. The kids were fired up, but behaved. So were the adults who filled the bleachers on the other side of the gym.
And the basketball was stellar. Linn-Mar won a well-played, entertaining contest between two fine teams, 70-64, to improve to 20-0.
The talent on display? Well, how many prep basketball games in America Tuesday featured four future Division I college players? When Linn-Mar has played Cedar Rapids Washington this season, that number was probably higher since Wash has Iowa recruit Josh Oglesby and another likely D-I player in Wes Washpun.
What those players did at Jeff Tuesday was pretty cool. With frontcourt starters Josh Montague and Ian McBrayer (good for a combined 20 points per game) out with injuries, guards Matt Bohannon and Marcus Paige stepped up and then some. They worked liked dogs in the Lions’ newly minted zone defense, and elevated their offensive games. Also playing an enhanced role for the Lions was Shane Benton, headed to D-I North Dakota.
Both scored 30 points. Paige went coast-to-coast for the game’s first two points. Bohannon swished his first 3-point try, gritting his teeth and gently pumping his fist in a controlled fury. The Lions had 18 points over their first seven possessions and threatened to make it a blowout.
Jefferson didn’t allow it. Its D-I player, Wisconsin signee Jarrod Uthoff, was held to five first-half points, but he and his teammates scrapped and were down by just 32-29 at halftime.
Linn-Mar led the whole second half, but could never get comfortable until the final seconds. The 6-foot-8 Uthoff scored 21 points in the second half, with baskets inside and outside.
"By far, he’s the best big man in the state of Iowa," said Linn-Mar Coach Chris Robertson.
But Robertson has the best collection of players, led by junior point guard Paige, a North Carolina commit. If you haven’t seen Paige, believe the hype. He’s calm and explosive, smart and smooth.
"I told my staff we’re watching a future NBA player," Jefferson Coach Stu Ordman said. "He’s certainly raised his level of game. He seems to be able to do whatever they need him to do."
Bohannon, a 6-4 guard, is kind of like how Doug McDermott was last year at Ames High. McDermott was eclipsed in attention by superstar teammate Harrison Barnes, now at North Carolina. But McDermott was darn good himself, and is now a starting freshman at Creighton.
Bohannon’s brothers, Jason and Zach, played for state-champions at Linn-Mar. It may be Matt’s turn in a few weeks.
"He’s a winner," Robertson said. "He wasn’t going to let us lose tonight.
"He’s really, really tough and really, really competitive. I think Jake (Northern Iowa Coach Ben Jacobson) has got a good one coming."
Uthoff, meanwhile, could become the state’s "Mr. Basketball." He leads the state in scoring with 26.2 points a game. His main competition for the honor, which always goes to a senior, may be Oglesby.
"Jarrod came to us with a real nice release to his shot," Ordman said. "He’s added to his game almost every month since he’s been here.
"I think the exciting thing with Jarrod Uthoff is he’s just tapping into his potential. If he stays healthy and develops, he could be a super-valuable player at Wisconsin and maybe have a career in the NBA."
The last Cedar Rapids-Marion player in major-league pro basketball was Bob Netolicky of the ABA’s Indiana Pacers in the early 1970s. So, two possible future NBA players in our midst? "Possible" is the operative word, and Ordman knows it. But ...
"It sure wouldn’t surprise me," Ordman said. "I’ve been coaching here 14 years, and the other player I saw in that time who I thought really had a chance was Kirk Hinrich (of Sioux City, who is in his eighth NBA season)."
Name a metro area in Iowa that has ever had a collection of talented players at one time to what we have here this winter. I can’t.