Newell-Fonda boys basketball coach Paul Loos was taught early on that in basketball, it's best to stick to basics.
This year's Pilot-Tribune's Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year was taught that lesson while playing freshman basketball for Jerry Todd in his hometown of Creston in the southwest part of the state.
"Jerry was a great admirer of Bob Knight, and he stressed defense first and a motion-type offense," Loos said. "I was influenced a lot by him. Whenever I could see one of Knight's Indiana teams play on television, I wouldn't miss it."
Sticking to the basics has served Loos well. During his 17-year tenure at Newell-Fonda, he's amassed a 308-90 career mark, took his teams to eight state tournaments and won four state titles.
The state titles came in 1991, 1997, 1999 and 2000. The Mustangs were state runners-up last season to Boyden Hull and took fourth place in this year's state tourney after entering the tournament undefeated at 26-0.
His teams have won seven conference titles and in the past eight years, has a record of 187-11 mark, an remarkable .944 winning percentage.
"We've had a lot of great athletes here over the years and the credit should go to them," Loos said. "They've had great talent, but they've worked very hard in the weight room and in the offseason to make themselves better. That was just as true of this year's team as of any other team I've ever had."
It helps to have good players, but without a good coach to guide them, good things might slip away.
Watch one of Loos' teams and you'll see an uptempo-game, with his team deflecting passes with regularity and running a motion offense in which his players almost always make the right decisions. It doesn't take long to figure out his team is well-coached and schooled in the fundamentals.
"We always stress defense first," Loos said. "If you play good defense, good offense will follow. I can remember that in my freshman year in high school, we'd spend 80 percent of each practice just on defense."
This year's Mustang team held opponents to 48.2 points per game while putting up over 77 per game offensively. Newell-Fonda held it's opponents to 37 percent shooting going into the state tournament.
Those days in the Creston gym learning defensive positioning must have helped.
But basketball was only one of four sports Loos excelled in. He played football for Creston, as well as basketball, baseball and track.
It was baseball which was Loos' top sport. He was in the starting rotation for Central College of the Iowa Conference as a freshman and played football for two years for the Dutch.
After a two-year stint in Pella, Loos got a baseball scholarship to Division I University of Northern Iowa, where he was a starting pitcher for two years.
So how does a baseball star wind up as one of the state's most successful basketball coaches?
"I always loved the game, loved to play it and coach it," he said.
After earning his bachelors degree at UNI, Loos coached junior high girls basketball at Sac City for a year, then moved on to Fonda.
The Newell and Fonda school districts merged for the 1989-1990 season, and Loos was tabbed to coach the newly-formed Newell-Fonda Mustangs.
It didn't take long for the team to excel. The Mustangs won the merged school's first state title in 1991.
"It was a very high-scoring team - I think we averaged about 97 points per game and went over 100 seven or eight times during the season," he said. "That team played great defense and had some outstanding shooters and passers. It was a great offensive and defensive team."
Loos added that his teams never made the state tournament again until 1997. There were some tough years along the way.
"A real turning point for the program was in 1995, when we upset Storm Lake-St. Mary's in a second-round district game in Newell," Loos said. "That was big for us, because it got us back on the right track and served as a springboard for the coming years."
Since 1997, the Mustangs have suffered just 13 losses, the stuff of basketball tradition and legend.
"The athletes deserve the credit, but we also have some outstanding coaches in our youth program's willing to put the time in," Loos said. "And Brandon Smith does a great job with our junior varsity and Brian Wilken with the junior high program."
Meanwhile, Loos said he's heard the rumors that he may be leaving Newell-Fonda for other jobs after this season. That has happened in other seasons as well, he said.
"It's something that happens in a small town,"he said. "But right now, I'm already starting to get ready for next season at Newell-Fonda."
With eight seniors graduating this spring - including starters Matt Stauter, Aaron Kaufman, Beau Artist and Austin Wells - tough times might be ahead for next year.
But youngsters have been working hard and keeping an eye on the basketball tradition. In the end, the Mustangs don't rebuild, just reload.
"We will have some spots to fill next year," Loos said, but I think we have some great talent coming up through the program."