Watching Joe Wieskamp brought back memories of another high school hoops sensation

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By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The more I watched Joe Wieskamp play against West High on Tuesday, the more I thought of how Bobby Hansen used to excel in a similar fashion almost 40 years earlier.

It’s hard to believe that nearly four decades have passed since Hansen burst on the scene as a high school hoops sensation for West Des Moines Dowling.

He was must-see entertainment in the late 1970s, often the tallest and always the most talented player on the court.

I was a freshman at Dowling when Hansen was a senior. He made Friday nights in the winter a lot more enjoyable as fans would flock to his games knowing that they were witnessing greatness.

Hansen would go on to star for Iowa as a shooting guard under Lute Olson and then played nine seasons in the NBA from 1983-92. He now is the color-commentator for Iowa’s radio broadcasts.

But for me, Hansen always will be more than anything the greatest high school player in the history of our state, outside of maybe Harrison Barnes or Raef LaFrentz.

Of course, I’m biased as a Dowling graduate. But if you had the privilege to watch Hansen play in high school, you know what I’m talking about. He was gifted in so many ways.

And he grew to 6-feet, 6-inches which was crucial to Hansen’s success. If he were three inches shorter, his rise to the NBA probably wouldn’t have happened.

That brings us back to Wieskamp, who is also listed at 6-6 and a combo guard by definition, although, the junior from Muscatine plays all over the court and doesn’t really have a position.

It was the same way with Hansen, who often would grab a rebound like a center, dribble up the court like a point guard and then drain a jumper like a shooting guard. Or there were times when Hansen would attack the rim and score either on a dunk or a layup, or he would dish to a teammate for an assist. Whatever it would take.

Wieskamp showed all of those same skills on Tuesday, and did so under extremely difficult circumstances with future Iowa teammate and fellow all-state selection Connor McCaffery determined to contain him.

It was a case where both sides held their own. The 6-5 McCaffery limited Wieskamp to just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field in the first half, while Wieskamp responded by scoring 17 points in the second half.

The game was a mismatch as top-ranked West rolled to an 83-44 victory. But even in defeat, Wieskamp's talent shined brightly.

The similarities between Wieskamp and Hansen go way beyond size and position. Weiskamp also can score in a variety of ways, inside, outside and in transition. He scores facing the basket and with his back to the basket. He scores off penetration and with a sweet jumper in which he gets good elevation.

Wieskamp also works hard on both ends of the floor. Some high school stars will rest on defense at times because they can.

But not Wieskamp.

West senior guard Devontae Lane appeared to have a breakaway layup in Tuesday’s game until Wieskamp raced down the court and blocked his shot against the backboard. The game was out of reach at that point, but Wieskamp respects the game too much to surrender.

Players like Wieskamp are rare for Iowa. You could match him against any level of high school competition in any part of the country and he would stand out.

The current Iowa freshmen, which currently consists of six players, will be juniors when Wieskamp joins the program in 2018, while Nicholas Baer, Ahmad Wagner and Brady Ellingson will be seniors.

Combine all of them with Iowa's 2017 recruiting class that consists of Connor McCaffery, 6-10 Luka Garza and 6-9 Jack Nunge and the future looks exciting and promising.

“They have a lot of good young guys in the program right now that are playing really well as freshman, and obviously, they’re going to improve as they get older,” Wieskamp said.

Wieskamp also should improve as he gets older. Each year he seems better than the previous year in terms of skill and physical maturity.

He seems perfectly equipped to play shooting guard under Fran McCaffery at Iowa, a role in which current Hawkeye senior Peter Jok has flourished.

“The first time I went up to visit Iowa and meet with coach McCaffery he said just watch Peter Jok and the two-and-three guards and see what you’re going to do in a couple years,” Wieskamp said.

Wieskamp attends the Iowa home games on a regular basis. He sits near the tunnel where the teams enter the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He sees how hard the players work to come off screens at the Big Ten level.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot from watching and I’ll definitely work on some of those things,” Wieskamp said.

You sometimes forget because of his immense talent that Wieskmap still is just a kid. He is eager to be a Hawkeye, but not in a hurry because he still has goals to accomplish in high school.

Wieskamp was asked after Tuesday’s loss to West in a Class 4A sub-state final what he wants to be able to say about himself as a player a year from now.

“That I made the state tournament,” he said. “That’s my biggest goal at the high school level.”

McCaffery, on the other hand, will play in the state tournament for the fourth year in a row and for a West program that is making its seventh consecutive trip to Des Moines.

Should Wieskamp lead the Muskies to the state tournament as a senior, he would share another similarity with Hansen, who led Dowling to the state title as a senior in 1979. Hansen wasn’t a solo act in high school, but without him, the Maroons would have been average at best.

Watching Wieskamp play on Tuesday was sort of like taking a trip back in time. The fact that he reminded me of Bobby Hansen could speak well about his future.