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Friendly Fab 5


Register Staff Writer



Steven Wetrich's best early memory of Alex Thompson springs from the front end of an alley-oop dunk.


Wetrich, of Ottumwa, assisted. Thompson, of Ames, finished. Both were ninth-graders in summer basketball camp at Grinnell College.


"I saw him coming, so I threw it off the backboard," Wetrich said. "He just went up and threw it down. It was unbelievable. I had never seen a kid jump so high."


Wetrich and Thompson have come a long way in four years, as have Johnston's Jimmy Binnie, Indianola's Erik Raney and Dowling Catholic's Brian Lillis.


Together, this group of five makes up The Des Moines Register's All-CIML first team in boys' basketball.


The team boasts a combined 20 seasons of at least some varsity playing experience.


Before high school, they met on the courts in the summer, sometimes as teammates, sometimes as adversaries.


"We've been on the same teams growing up, then we split off to different teams before high school," said Lillis, who played with Binnie most summers since the fourth grade. "It's been really competitive between us."


Lillis joined Binnie and Thompson on the 2003 Martin Brothers Select team that finished second at the AAU 17-and-under national basketball tournament last August at Orlando, Fla.


"During the summer, the three of us are such different players," said Binnie, who will play for Dayton next season. "Alex plays great against those other big guys - he shows his size and versatility. Brian gets to the basket and finishes well."


And Binnie, the CIML's leading scorer this season?


"He can bring the ball up the court, he can shoot the three, take it to the hole," said Wetrich, who is considering several college possibilities. "He can pretty much do anything."


Added Iowa-bound Thompson: "(Binnie) moves real well without the ball, and is always active."


Raney does a lot well, too, but his main offensive asset is a quick-release, accurate outside shot.


"He can just flat-out shoot," Wetrich said. "We did everything we could and he still scored (23 points) against us."


Lillis - who will play at Albany - is most admired for his range of talents. When former teammate Kevin Kanaskie departed for Pennsylvania, Lillis adapted to the point guard position. He placed in the top five in the Central Conference in points per game, assists, rebounds and steals.


"He can pass through defenders and find the open guy for a layup," said Raney, who is considering Buena Vista among other colleges. "He can get to the basket just as well."


Wetrich's broad-based talents are limited only by his sub-6-foot height, but enhanced by his work ethic.


"He's got great ball-handling skills, as well as shooting," Raney said. "He's got unlimited range."


At 6-9, Thompson's size presents problems for opponents. His passing - he averages more than three assists per game - provides a wild card.


"He's all-around . . . but at the next level - Big Ten competition - I guess he's going to have to go outside," Lillis said.


There's little guessing involved when assessing the attributes of this group. Bundle them up and a complete package forms - one several years in the making, encompassing summer friendships and winter rivalries.


"Everybody's doing all those things really well," Binnie said.


And two of them - Wetrich and Binnie - extended their high school seasons to the state tournament. Both are first-timers at the annual event.


"It's been a dream for us since we've been in fifth grade," Wetrich said of Ottumwa's seniors. "I'm sure it is for everybody, but it's just something we've always wanted to do."

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