It’s been more than a month since the Ankeny boys’ basketball team capped off an amazing postseason run by winning the Class 4A state title at Wells Fargo Arena.
Man, I miss sports.
The Hawks’ 78-70 victory over Waukee in the championship game was played before a sparse crowd because both schools were limited to just 100 fans due to concern over spread of the coronavirus. That was the last high school sporting event to be held locally as all spring activities were initially postponed–and eventually cancelled–by the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union.
So now what?
Well, let’s have some fun. There are no more games to write about for at least the next several weeks, so let’s take a look back at some of the best boys’ basketball players to ever wear an Ankeny (or an Ankeny Centennial) uniform.
I’m pretty familiar with the history of boys’ basketball in this community. I played for legendary coach Larry Ireland in 1981-83, and our team even made it to the 1982 state tournament, where we lost to Davenport Assumption at the old Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
I’ve been covering high school athletics in my hometown since 1989, first for the Ankeny Press Citizen and later for The Des Moines Register and now for Ankeny Fanatic. In 2006, as part of the Press Citizen’s 50th anniversary celebration, I put together a list of the 50 greatest athletes in Ankeny High School history.
There were numerous boys’ basketball players on the top 50 list, which helped me somewhat with this latest project. Here, then, is the Ankeny Fanatic all-time Ankeny boys’ basketball team, comprised of four five-player squads.
Ray Fontana, 1950: The late Fontana is the first of Ankeny’s four Hall of Famers on the elite squad. The three-time all-stater scored 846 points as a senior, which still ranked eighth on the state’s all-time single-season list 56 years later, and was named a high school all-American. He finished his career with 1,899 points. He led Ankeny to three straight trips to the state tournament (when it was just one class), including a runner-up finish in 1950, when the Hawks lost to a potent Davenport squad, 67-28, in the title contest. In an earlier game at the state tournament, he scored a record 36 points in an Ankeny victory. Fontana went on to play basketball at Iowa, but his career was cut short due to a lengthy battle with tuberculosis. He was inducted into the IHSAA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, and he was ranked 11th on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list. In 2018, he was named to The Register’s list of the state’s 50 greatest basketball players of all time. So yeah, let’s make Ray the captain of our team.
Jay Block, 1980: Block was a two-time all-state center who led Ankeny to a third-place finish in Class 3A in 1979. A ferocious rebounder, he grabbed 756 boards in his career while also racking up 1,010 points. As a senior, Block made 67 percent of his shots from the field. He went on to play for the University of Northern Iowa, where he scored 718 points in his Panthers’ career. Block was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, and he came in at No. 32 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list. With the other scorers on this team, Jay could have focused on what he did best–dominating the glass. He once grabbed 29 rebounds against Saydel during his junior year, and then he averaged 14 boards per game as a senior.
Todd Sears, 1994: Sears was an all-stater in both basketball and baseball who could have played either sport at the Division I level. He twice led Ankeny to the state basketball tournament, where the Hawks placed second in 1993 and third in 1994. He was the captain of the all-tournament team as a junior. The 6-foot-7 forward finished his career with 1,285 points and 647 rebounds. Sears went on to play baseball at Nebraska and eventually reached the major leagues, where he had brief stints with the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres. He was ranked No. 4 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list, and that was before he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame three years later. Sears was a clutch performer who could do it all on the court. Most of his points came from the paint, but he would also be a 3-point threat on this team. As a senior, he hit a game-winning trey from the top of the key at the buzzer to beat Sioux City Heelan, 54-51, in the Class 4A quarterfinals. He had ice water in his veins.
Ryan Sears, 1997: Todd’s younger brother was a three-time all-state guard for the Hawks. He was named to the all-tournament team after helping Ankeny to the school’s first state title in 1995. Sears also played on two other teams that advanced to the state tournament, including the third-place squad in 1994, when he was just a freshman and sparked a late run to beat Valley in the consolation final. He scored 1,209 points during his career. Sears went on to become a four-year starter at point guard for Creighton, leading the Bluejays to multiple appearances in the NCAA Tournament. He was the Most Valuable Player of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in 2000, and he holds the school’s career records for assists and steals. Sears was No. 18 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list, but he might be a little higher today–he was named to Creighton’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 and to the IHSAA Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. He is the perfect point guard for this squad–an unselfish player who can score but would prefer to set up his teammates.
Braxton Bayless, 2020: I didn’t have to look back very far to find a fifth player for the elite team. Bayless was named the captain of the all-tournament team after leading the Hawks to the second state title in school history last month. No other Ankeny player has ever accomplished both of those feats. Bayless averaged 22.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while helping the Hawks to a 21-5 record. He scored 20 or more points in 15 of the 22 games that he played, including a career-high 41-point outburst in the Class 4A quarterfinals against Iowa City West, when he put the Hawks on his back and carried them to a come-from-behind victory. Bayless was named to the Class 4A all-state first team by both The Register and the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association. He is a scoring point guard, but he showed in the final two games at the state tournament that he can also distribute the ball, often finding his teammates for open 3-pointers. There’s no reason we can’t have two point guards on this team–and Bayless is one of the best.
Barney Alleman, 1951: Alleman was an all-state forward who joined Fontana on the 1948-50 state tournament teams. As a freshman in 1948, he helped the Hawks to a fourth-place finish. He earned a scholarship to play for Iowa State, but was invited to football practice as a freshman and eventually switched to a football scholarship. He went on to become a three-year letterwinner in both sports. Alleman was No. 26 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list.
Van Phelps, 1973: Phelps battled some injuries during his high school career, but still managed to rack up 1,040 points and 613 rebounds. As a senior, he nearly led the Hawks to an upset over eventual state champion Ames in the substate final. Phelps earned fourth-team all-state honors from The Register, which combined all of the classes on its all-state teams until 1990. He went on to play for Iowa.
Gregg McCullough, 1987: McCullough averaged 25.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a senior, when he earned first-team all-state honors. He led Ankeny to a 47-11 record while scoring 902 points during his high school career. McCullough was a USA Today honorable mention all-American in 1987 as well as a Converse and McDonald’s all-American nominee. He began his college career at the Air Force Academy before transferring to Iowa State and joining the Cyclones’ program as a walk-on.
Greg Allen, 1990: Allen was a two-time all-state center who led the Hawks to a fourth-place finish in the state tournament in 1990. He poured in 1,018 points and grabbed 602 rebounds during his career. Allen was also an all-stater in football who went on to become a starting tight end for Iowa. He ranked No. 39 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list.
P.J. Dauterive, 1996: Dauterive was a sharpshooting guard who twice earned all-state honors and helped the Hawks to the state title as a junior in 1995. He erupted for a career-high 35 points in the Class 4A final against Valley, including 22 in a row during one stretch of the first half, and was named to the all-tournament team. Earlier that season, Dauterive hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to beat Valley, then later banked in a shot from near midcourt as time expired to give Ankeny another win over the Tigers. He was a baller.
Joel Schreiner, 1975: Schreiner was a high-scoring forward who earned fifth-team all-state honors as a senior, when he averaged 23.3 points and had 38 points in a game against Ames. He scored 698 points in his career, 465 of them in his final season. He went on to play at Missouri-Rolla.
Pat Dunsmore, 1978: Dunsmore emerged as an elite player during his senior year, when the super-athletic forward averaged 17.2 points per game and was named to the all-state fifth team. He did not play football until his senior season, but he went on to become a first-team all-American tight end at Drake and was later named to the Bulldogs’ all-time football team. He also played in a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. Dunsmore was No. 9 on the Press Citizen’s top 50 list.
Kyle Crowe, 1982: Crowe was another multi-sport standout who went on to play football at Iowa, where he started as a defensive back. One of my former teammates, Crowe scored 1,097 points and grabbed 553 rebounds during his high school career. He averaged 22.4 points as a senior, when he led our team to state. Crowe was a fourth-team all-state selection.
Ted Friedman, 2013: The 6-foot-9 Friedman was a four-year varsity player under coach John Petersen, helping the Hawks to back-to-back third-place finishes in Class 4A in 2011-12. He was a second-team all-state pick as a junior and a first-team selection as a senior. Friedman went on to play for Northern Iowa, where he helped the Panthers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2016.
Cody McCullough, 2020: The son of Gregg McCullough, Cody led Centennial to a fourth-place finish in this year’s state tournament. A first-team all-state forward, McCullough set eight school records while helping the Jaguars to a 24-3 record. He closed out his high school career in style, scoring 21 points and grabbing a record 24 rebounds during the consolation final against Cedar Falls. The Wayne State recruit was named to the all-tournament team.
Mike Justice, 1963: Justice was a fifth-team all-state center as a senior. He finished his career with 1,012 points and 705 rebounds. Justice was considered Ankeny’s premier player of the 1960s.
Max Schnepf, 1983: Another of my former teammates, Schnepf was an all-state guard who took advantage of the 3-point line, which was adopted for the 1982-83 season. He averaged 20.6 points per game as a senior, scoring many of his points from well beyond the arc. Schnepf scored 1,068 points in his career. He went on to play for Mankato State.
Kevin Smith, 2007: Smith was a rugged post player who led the Hawks to a state tournament berth in 2007. He averaged 17.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while earning second-team all-state honors. Smith went on to play at Southwest Minnesota State before finishing his college career at Grand View.
Grant Lang, 2011: Lang was a second-team all-state guard as a senior who scored a career-high 32 points in his final game, including 14 in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks outlasted Iowa City West in overtime in the Class 4A consolation final. He finished his career with 998 points. Two of his teammates on that squad, guards Cole and Cory Myers, were also part of the Ankeny team that went 25-1 the next season and were among the players considered for the last few spots on this team. Lang went on to play at Sioux Falls before finishing his college career at Upper Iowa.
Jay Schon, 2015: Schon is the only player on this list who played for both Ankeny schools. After starting as a sophomore at Ankeny, he moved across town when Centennial opened in 2013 and became a two-time all-state center under coach Bob Fontana, leading the Jaguars to a 36-9 mark in their first two seasons. As a senior, he suffered a broken leg during the regular-season finale at Ottumwa, ending his high school career. He came back from the injury to play for Grand View in college.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ankeny Fanatic teams were selected by publisher Dan Holm, who consulted with several former and current coaches before making his picks.)