BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison boys head basketball coach Ryan Wilson must have found a Metropolis phone booth at an auction somewhere in the offseason.
This year’s version of the Bloodhounds aren’t superhero’s by any stretch, but they certainly have gone through a metamorphosis, that has Wilson talking even faster than usual.
Wilson said the Hounds are as deep and experienced as they’ve ever been and the chemistry may just be right this year for a run at a conference title.
“This is a tight group of kids. We’ve got six or seven seniors this year which is the most I’ve ever had,” Wilson said, who’s entering his fifth season as head coach.
“They’re great vocally and as leaders and its awesome to see the seniors get along and mesh so well with sophomores that are dressing. If you see them on or off the court you’d think they were all seniors they get along so well.”
Wilson said the Southeast Conference should be wide open this year and with Burlington being added to the mix, it should be a very competitive year. The Hound lost to a young Burlington squad last year by six.
Fairfield, Washington and Mt. Pleasant took five of six games from the Fort Madison last year, with the Bloodhounds only win against those three coming against the Panthers on the road.
The Hounds finished last year 7-14 and gave Washington a spirited game at districts ending the season with a 50-54 loss.
Senior Jayden Fedler tweaked his diet and commitment to his body and shaved anywhere from 30 to 75 pounds depending on who you talk to. Right now he’s officially listed at 6’5″ and 220 lbs.
Fedler was second in the conference in scoring last year at 14.5 points per game and shot a league best 58.5% from the field for those with more than 100 attempts. He was fourth in the league in rebounding right at six boards per outing.
“I’m not gonna lie but I’m expecting a lot out of this team,” he said. “We’re young, but we have the players and talent to get us places. I’m expecting a conference title this year. That’s what were shooting for.”
With the addition of junior 6’6″ Jake Eaves who sat out last year after transferring from Holy Trinity his freshman year, Fedler isn’t the tallest on the team. Eaves is a lanky three or four forward, who’s a threat from outside.
“I feel like I’m quicker and have faster moves and I can stretch my game outside a lot.”
The Hounds will also rely heavily on sophomore Dayton Davis, who jumped on the scene last year as a freshman averaging just under nine points a game. But Davis is quick off the dribble and led the conference in steals. He was also sixth in assists.
Davis sprouted about three inches during the offseason. A byproduct of the quick growth spurt, in addition to added depth of play, could be a minor calf injury that has Wilson handling him with gentle gloves during the preseason.
“Dayton has only gotten better and hasn’t lost a step. He’s got a minor calf injury so I’ve played it pretty cautiously,” Wilson said. “There was a conversation him where we just said it was early in the season let’s rest ya and get you better.”
As a freshman, Davis was looked to by the Hounds for his defense, and ability to score and move off the dribble, but he said he doesn’t look at himself as a leader.
“I don’t see myself as a main leader of the team, but I feel, again like my teammates can rely on me to step up when we need it,” he said.
“I feel like we have a lot better depth this year in our lineup and we should be able to make a run for the conference.”
Wilson said he’s starting lineup will feature Davis, Fedler, and senior Parker Denning. He said sophomore Miles Dear, who made an impact late last year off the bench running the offense, will take the point guard spot.
The fifth starter, Wilson said, could be made on a game-by-game basis with the depth on the this year’s team.
“One day it could be Mike Mosena and we go fast and small, and the next it could be Julian Navarro or Jake Eaves and we go big,” Wilson said.
“Jace Burgher is also another option there who brings a whole other physical dynamic. It’s really kind of exciting.”
Fort Madison has 32 players from 9th-12th grade, another figure that’s a first for Wilson’s five years.
Denning, also a senior, said the transformation of Fedler and Davis’ growth spurt make the same Hound team from last year, a completely different team this year. Fort Madison lost starters Logan Rashid and Brandon Keester from last year’s team.
“I think it’s a real possibility for a conference title. We’re really lengthy and athletic this year so I think we have the opportunity,” Denning said.
“I think, especially with Jayden, he’ll be more mobile and he’ll be faster than most big guys we’ll face. Dayton is way longer this year, so he’ll have more steals and should be able to take it to the hoop more often than he did last year.”
News that broke this year of confrontations with Wilson and Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater over playing time of upperclassman, including her son, as well as a video of Slater’s husband confronting Wilson at a camp, is behind the Hounds head coach,
“The past is behind us. These guys are hungry and ready to go and compete for conference title and that’s very realistic,” Wilson said.
The Hounds unofficially kick off the season in the Hall of Pride game Monday night in West Burlington. They open the regular season Dec. 3 in Ottumwa.