By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Over the constant crowd noise, the occasional buzzer and the echo from the public-address announcer Devontae Lane heard West High head coach Steve Bergman as clear as day.
He still couldn’t believe what he had heard.
Lane was prepared for his role in West High’s 2014 state tournament run to match his responsibilities from the rest of his freshman season.
He would sit on the bench and in the event of a lopsided outcome log a few late minutes of mop-up duty.
Sure, his playing time had picked up a little in a pair of substate wins but this was the state tournament Lane thought.
“Coming in I didn’t really even take warmups seriously because I knew I wasn’t going to play,” Lane said. “That’s what I thought.”
West High was deadlocked with Southeast Polk in its Class 4A state opener when Lane heard the words from Bergman.
“Devontae,” Lane recalls Bergman shouting.
He didn’t budge. Instead he looked around.
“He does this thing where he walks down back-and-forth along the bench to see who he’s going to put in and he walks down the bench and he says ‘Devontae’,” Lane explained. (Another player) starts to take his warmup off and the coaches were like, ‘no he said Devontae’,”
Lane looked at the floor at Wells Fargo Arena and then turned to face his veteran coach.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘me?’,” Lane said pointing to his chest with a quizzical smile. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Lane was exactly the player Bergman wanted and the freshman quickly made it a smart decision scoring four points in a span of six seconds in the final minute of the opening quarter.
A pair of late first-quarter layups by Lane helped turn a one-point deficit into a 16-13 lead that West High would never give up in a 69-51 win over the Rams.
“When he called on me it was just my time,” Lane said. “I got as mentally prepared as I could in those 30 seconds before I checked in.”
Lane made all three of his field goal attempts and finished with six points in the quarterfinal win.
He then played a combined 15 minutes off the bench in the next two games to help West High claim its third straight Class 4A state title.
“He didn’t play much that year but we had a need for a kid that would go out there and guard and make layups and make the right pass,” Bergman said. “It got down to the end of the year and it’s like who do you trust the most of the guys that were coming off the bench and he was the guy I trusted the most.”
The strong state tournament capped an otherwise pedestrian freshman season for Lane who scored 28 points in 13 appearances before the state tournament.
It also gave a glimpse to the rest of the state of what Lane’s teammates had seen for years.
“I had seen him play like that before,” West High point guard Connor McCaffery said. “He didn’t get as many minutes with us at the start of the year but he started practicing well and he stepped up in the state tournament. I think that definitely gave him some confidence going into the rest of his career.”
As small as it may have seemed to some at the time the feeling of that first state tournament performance never left Lane.
It helped to propel him into one of the top players in the state, a 1,000-point scorer and a key piece of a top-ranked West High (20-3) team that returns to the state tournament for the seventh straight season this week.
“When you throw a freshman into the state tournament where every team is there for a reason it’s a big jump from playing scrub minutes to playing in the state tournament,” Lane said. “That helped me see what that level is like.”
Lane went from unexpected super sub to a budding superstar almost overnight.
He followed up his state tournmaent showing by averaging 12.9 points as a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
The improvement has continued every season.
Lane was a second-team all-state pick last season when he averaged 13.7 points per game on West High’s 4A runner-up team.
This season has been the best yet for the 6-foot-2 guard.
Lane enters Wednesday’s class 4A quarterfinal against Newton (19-5) averaging career-highs in points (14.8), rebounds (3.7), assists (4.3) and steals (3.2) while shooting a career-best 53 percent from the floor.
“He’s shooting better this year, he’s always been a good anticipator on defense and he’s a better leader this year,” Bergman said. “This year I think he just wants to win. I don’t think he’s worried about numbers or any of that. Sometimes guys struggle with that a little bit especially guys that potentially are going to play in college but I think he’s done a good job of just ignoring that stuff.”
While he has improved in just about every statistical category, Lane believes his biggest growth as a senior has come in the areas that aren’t tallied on a scoresheet.
“I just figure if I go out and give 100 percent effort even if I’m having a bad game scoring something has to be on, either my defense or leadership,” Lane said. “It doesn’t take a lot of athletic ability to open your mouth and talk on defense. It doesn’t take a lot of ability to do your job.”
Lane has come a long way from the freshman that turned heads at the state tournament three seasons ago but he hasn’t forgotten that experience.
What he learned from his surprise debut at state as a freshman has helped Lane play some of his best basketball in Des Moines.
He has scored in double figures in five of his last six state tournament games averaging 14.5 points during that stretch that includes 14 in last year’s state title game loss to West Des Moines Valley.
The lesson that has stuck with Lane in the three years since his state debut is treating every game the same.
“As I was checking in that first time I remember looking up and seeing that they are putting the camera on me and everyone was watching me and I was thinking this is shocking,” Lane said. “We ran a play and I got an and one layup and crowd went wild. Ever since then I just treat state like every game there is a normal game because it was for me.”
If West High can reach the state final Lane will join his backcourt mate McCaffery in playing in the maximum 12 state tournament games in their careers.
Lane isn’t focused on another title game appearance, he wants a second state title.
After playing a small role in the Trojans 2014 title the Trojans have finished third and second the past two seasons.
Lane wants to end his career with another crown.
“I just hope we can come out on top this year because the last two years have been disappointing,” Lane said. “I think if we come prepared, and we have come ready to play the last couple of games, we will be fine.”