The North Scott Lancers made their way to the Iowa Class 4A substate finals, where they ran into a talented Dubuque Senior squad. The Lancers hung around for a majority of the game, but Senior took control in the fourth quarter, coming out with a commanding 56-31 victory.
North Scott freshman guard Cortez Seales finished the game with a team-high nine points, eight rebounds and two assists. At 6'-2", 160 pounds, Seales struggled finishing at times against a much taller opponent. But he was pleased how his team battled.
"It was a pretty good game. We came in focused, we fought, but we just didn't come out with the win. It's basketball; some nights shots fall, some nights they don't. You just have to live with it and stay aggressive."
North Scott finished the season with a record of 15-8, which exceeded expectations considering they didn't start one senior. Seales knew it was an outstanding season under the circumstances.
"We had a great season. We came in and were obviously the underdogs because we were so young, but we knew there were no excuses. We knew if we came out, played hard and practiced hard, we could have a good season."
Seales had an impressive freshman year, averaging 12 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game. But he still isn't satisfied.
"I played pretty good. There are no excuses for being a freshman. In basketball, it's the same for everybody. I just have to learn and practice to get better."
Seales shared what was the hardest part of going from eighth grade to varsity basketball.
"Everybody is stronger. You have to learn to take some hits and keep going and play through it. Playing in eighth grade last year, you have to learn how to finish at the varsity level."
Seales shouldered a lot of responsibility as a freshman. He was expected to be a leader on the court and took a big part of his team's offensive and defensive game plan. He accepted that role and knew the team would rely heavily on him, regardless of his age.
"I don't use being a freshman as an excuse because there are plenty of freshman out there doing the same thing. So I just have to get better every day and go with the flow."
North Scott head coach Shamus Budde showed confidence in Seales from the beginning of the year. Seales proved himself over the course of the season, and Budde couldn't have been more proud of the 14-year old phenom.
"I thought Cortez had a great year for us," said Budde. "We put a lot of pressure on him, and being as young as he is, I don't think he could have had a better year. He did quite a bit for us offensively and defensively. One thing that impressed me was how he handled himself on and off the floor. On the floor, he always keeps his composure and did a lot for us.
"When you play that youth basketball and AAU basketball, a lot of kids have so much success because they are used to shooting and having the ball in their hands the entire time. It's pretty impressive how Cortez adapted to the varsity level so quickly and just being a team player. He led us in scoring, assists and rebounds, which says a lot about the type of kid he is only being a freshman."
However, Seales was not pleased with how he finished the season, so he will use it as motivation to improve himself for next year.
"I just need to continue to work hard and improve. I have to work and get better at everything to be the best I can be. And I need to get in the weight room. The competition in basketball gets bigger, faster and stronger, so I need to improve on getting stronger and just being a better player and person."
Budde also shared some things he would like to see Seales improve.
"He has to focus on getting stronger and taking care of his body by making sure he is gaining that muscle. I think right now, he really needs to just work most on getting stronger."He also needs to work on getting better defensively and learning how to defend and take different angles away from different types of players he is playing. With Cortez's size, length and athletic ability, sometimes he is guarding a guard and sometimes a big, so he needs to work with defense as well.
"The other thing is, he really needs to work on his jumper. All young kids—looking across the state—that are freshman playing varsity, they normally don't shoot well from the perimeter because they are so used to only being able to take it to the rim. So he needs to work on that, but that can be for anyone at any level."
It's rare to see a freshman be so successful at the varsity level, but Seales has special set of skills. He is extremely quick and a good ball handler, so he can get himself open almost whenever he wants. But he can also find the open guy when necessary.
Although he needs to gain muscle, he plays strong and takes the ball strong to the hoop. His shot needs improvement, but with nice form, that will likely come with time. Also, he plays good fundamental defense and rebounds well for his size.
Budde shared Seales's best attribute.
"The thing that impresses me most was that he was very unselfish, and I think that's what his teammates liked most about him too. He always puts his teammates in front of himself, and you don't always see that with a lot of kids anymore."
Seales thanks his teammates and parents for helping him become the player he is.
"My mom and my dad played basketball, and they just let me play basketball as much as I wanted to. Doing that, I developed a love for the game.
"And at practice, my teammates didn't treat me like a freshman—they hit me hard. They hit me like they hit everyone else. If they were going to foul me, they made sure they were going to foul me hard. They bumped me when I cut and made it tough, but in the end that helped me."
Seales plays AAU basketball with Kingdom Hoops. He was content with how his first dose of AAU went.
"I came around a month after the season started, so it was a little different starting off. But I thought I played all right for my first time playing AAU."
Buddie could not reveal the colleges interested in Seales but confirmed he is receiving interest from D3, D2, and D1 schools. Illinois will be following his progress.