Going for a state championship: Loaded Ames boys' basketball team pursuing dream
They made it to the state semifinals last year.
Now they want to win the whole thing.
With four starters returning from last year's 18-4 team, a state championship is clearly in play for the Ames Little Cyclones as they prepare for the start of the 2021-22 boys' basketball season.
“Obviously our goal is to be at the top,” Ames senior point guard Tamin Lipsey said. “We’ll take it one game at a time and at the end we’ll take on whomever is at the top.”
Lipsey, an Iowa State signee, averaged 16.3 points, 5.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds a year ago. He had suffered an ACL tear as a sophomore, battled his way back to have a big junior year and is looking for even bigger things as a senior.
“These first few days of practice are hard, just getting back into the conditioning,” Lipsey said. “But overall I feel really healthy and really good.”
Ames brings back two talented big men to help Lipsey.
Trevion LaBeaux transferred from Waterloo last year and was eligible to play the second half of the season, but he wasn't able to compete at the state tournament. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
LaBeaux worked on expanding his game on both ends of the court over the summer — emphasizing one area in particular.
“My shot,” LaBeaux said. “Attacking is always going to be the main part of my game, but I feel I need to extend it.”
LaBeaux also plans on taking full advantage of his 6-foot-5 frame on defense.
“I’ve got goals on defense,” LaBeaux said. “I want to average a double-double or around there.”
Corey Phillips is coming off a big year in football, where he has Division I offers at tight end. At 6-5, 270 pounds and blessed with a nice shooting touch, Phillips will be a matchup problem for a lot of teams.
“I worked on my ball-handling, posts and shot,” Phillips said. “Just pretty much everything.”
Ames also brings back 6-6 swingman Lucas Lueth. Lueth averaged 4.9 points and made 18 3-pointers.
“You’ve got four starters coming back,” coach Vance Downs said. “That’s four guys with game experience in the (state) semifinals. We’re hoping that helps us early in the schedule.”
Other players capable of making an early impact are 6-4 forward Devin Settle, 6-8 center Ring Yak, senior Onur Onal, sophomore Jack Wynter and junior transfer Clay Largue-Wright. As the season progresses more players also have the potential to contribute.
“We’re really excited about getting started and seeing how we develop and where our chemistry takes us,” Downs said. “So far the kids have done a great job.”
With so much experience coming back and an abundance of young talent, the expectations are sky high at Ames. But Downs cautions that this is a whole new season and his team cannot take anything for granted.
“This process starts all over,” Downs said. “I hope there’s a confidence gained from last year. But there’s a lot of work that’s got to be done.”
That starts with the season opener Dec. 3 at home against Ankeny.
“We’ve got our hands full with our very first game of the season,” Downs said. “Ankeny is going to be tremendous, and the opponents will just continue to be good ones as we progress through the schedule.”
Ames also faces defending 4A state champion Waukee on the road Dec. 14 and has two games with Waukee Northwest and Ankeny Centennial, one at Johnston and a rematch with Ankeny later in the season.
The Little Cyclones get to go out of state Dec. 11 to participate in the Norm Stewart Classic in Missouri against Christian Brothers College, a private high school in St. Louis. That game will be televised on ESPN3/ESPN+.
“The key is going to be playing hard and staying true to ourselves,” Lipsey said. “We have a great team and everyone knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses and what they’re supposed to do. If we go out there and play as hard as we can what’s going to come is what’s going to come.”
Ames was overpowered by Waukee in last year's state semifinals, losing 71-36. The Little Cyclones are going to use that as motivation to finish the job this time around.
“We’re all ready for it,” Lipsey said. “Last year was a little bit of a letdown with how the season ended. This year we’re excited and we’re going to get straight to it.”
The Little Cyclone senior class wants to end its third trip to state in four years with a championship. But the most important thing for the seniors this season, according to Phillips, is to enjoy one final run together.
“I’m excited to get out there and play with my guys,” Phillips said. “Whatever happens this season happens, but the main reason you want to be out there is so you can play with your guys and build a brotherhood that we’ve been building since we came in as freshmen.”