Sometimes, when a program from a small high school goes more than two decades between appearances in the state tournament, first-hand advice on what to expect once you finally make it back can be hard to find.
That was not the case, however, for the Davenport Gorillas, who celebrated their return to the State 2B boys basketball tournament following a 23-year absence by cuffing Liberty Christian 63-50 in an opening-round matchup that played out early Wednesday morning in the Arena.
It turns out that senior forward Taylor Morgan, Davenport’s leading scorer, has a couple of close relatives, including his father, Troy, with state tournament experience.
Troy Morgan played in the 1980 State B when the Gorillas did “not so good” and his brother, Sandy, was a member of both the 1984 Davenport team that finished third and the 1985 team that finished seventh in the school’s last trip to the boys tournament.
This year’s team drew heavily off the advice of Morgan’s dad in staging its successful return.
“He told us to play hard, never give up and have fun while you’re there,” Taylor Morgan said shortly after dumping a game-high 21 points on Liberty Christian and leading the Gorillas (18-7) into today’s 4 p.m. second-round showdown against Adna. “You never know when you’re going to get another chance.”
According to junior guard Jarod Gunning, the bar had been set pretty high by Morgan’s uncle and the 1984 team that lost to eventual state champion Brewster in the semifinals.
“We’ve always heard stories about his uncle and how good they were back then,” said Gunning, who knocked down 11 of 12 free throws and finished with 18 points in the opening-round win over the Patriots (19-7). “Those are the expectations we have to live up to.”
It will take at least a couple of more wins to do that, but second-year coach Tim Zeiler wasn’t about to rule out the possibility after surviving the opening round.
“I knew this game was going to be huge for us,” said Zeiler, a longtime assistant girls coach at Reardan, who went 10-12 in his first season as Davenport’s head boys coach last year. “Not only because I knew our kids would be nervous, but because the 9 a.m. game is always tough.
“I was under a lot of pressure from the business people back home to win today’s game so we can get the 4 o’clock game (today) and they can come watch.”
Not surprisingly, Zeiler welcomes the community’s demands and lofty expectations after having been involved with coaching youth basketball in Davenport since he first moved there in 1990 and landed a teaching and coaching job at Reardan.
“I don’t want to say people were surprised we made it this year – just excited, I guess, because it had been such a drought,” said Zeiler, who went to three girls State B tournaments as an assistant under three different head coaches at Reardan. “For years, I think Davenport was looked upon as a football community, and they’ve had a lot of success in football.
“But when we started getting these kids into a lot of youth basketball and playing bigger schools, I think the parents starting believing in their kids, and the community did, too.”
Adding to the excitement is the fact that Zeiler feels he has “an unbelievable group” of young players at the junior-high level that is capable of sustaining the Gorillas’ recent basketball success.
“Our seventh-graders were undefeated this year and our eighth-graders were 9-1,” he said. “And we have some height coming up, and a seventh-grader who can already stuff the basketball.
“It’s kind of funny how success like this can sometimes become contagious.”
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