By the third game, 39-year Iowa Central veteran coach Dennis Pilcher knew this was going to be a special season.
The Triton men didn’t make it quite as far as Pilcher would have liked, or play as well as he had hoped in their final game, but the Hall of Fame leader was still proud of his group’s overall body of work.
“The third game (of the season), we played at Northeast Nebraska,” Pilcher said. “They had some size and good guards. We played well, shot the ball well and beat them. I knew (at that point) we had a chance to be a competitive basketball team.
“”We just needed to keep working. We improved offensively much more than defensively.”
The Tritons (21-12) advanced to the Region XI championship round before losing to defending national champion Southwestern on Saturday in Creston.
Entering the season, Pilcher wasn’t too sure what to expect. He quickly found out his squad had both talent and heart.
“When you start two sophomores and the rest are freshmen, you never know,” Pilcher said. “My goal was to be playing the best basketball and be the most improved team in the conference. We met those goals.
“I felt like we could be pretty competitive. You never know what to expect out of 18-year-old kids and how the chemistry is going to be.”
With Tray Croft leading the way, good things started to happen. Croft finished his career with 1,626 points, including an all-time ICCC best 854 points this season, breaking his own record of 772 points from a year ago. Croft led the entire nation in scoring.
“Your best basketball player has to be your hardest worker,” Pilcher said. “Tray comes out and practices and gives great effort and gets the other kids going, too.”
All of Croft’s attributes helped lead him to being named the ICCAC Player of the Year.
“There is no question, in my 39 years in the conference, that is one of the best to ever play,'” Pilcher said. “He is one of the most proficent scorers I’ve seen in the league. After 28 games, I looked at his stats and he was averaging 28 points and only taking 17 shots a game.
“He is one of the best to ever play at Iowa Central.”
As the Tritons got better, so did the individual players.
“Our most improved player was Royshawn Webb,'” Pilcher said. “At the beginning of the year, nobody was guarding him. He started to go the gym every day and work on his game. He would shoot for 35 to 45 minutes before practice.
“He was one of the keys for us beating (No. 5) Kirkwood (in the regional semifinals). He was 3-for-4 from the three-point line. He wasn’t doing that in the first of November. He had tremendous improvement. Tray was our best player, but Royshawn was our silent MVP for the team. He was the glue.”
Pilcher saw others buy in as well.
“Dallas (Bailey) knocked down shots and hit some big ones from the perimeter,” Pilcher said. “I have to give credit to our bench, too. We had guys that wanted to do anything they could do to help win.
“Everyone played their tails off, which made our job as coaches easier.”