Written by: Matt Harris
4A Great Basin Ten Conference (District 4-5)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Twin Falls
6. Mountain Home
9. Canyon Ridge
10. Wood River
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jace Whiting, Burley
Ethan Gibbons, Burley
Mitchell Brizee, Twin Falls
Faust Ystueta, Twin Falls
Ryan Ball, Twin Falls
Luke Smellie, Preston
Ty Hyde, Preston
Cooper Hobson, Preston
Riley Parker, Preston
Kasen Carpenter, Minico
Kobe Matsen, Minico
Rylan Chandler, Minico
Max Rogers, Century
Deshun Harwell, Century
Jared Adams, Mountain Home
Nehemiah Parker, Mountain Home
Johnny Radford, Wood River
Brayden Olson, Wood River
Tyler Olsen, Pocatello
Isaac Brown, Pocatello
Avery Rambur, Canyon Ridge
Louie Cresto, Canyon Ridge
James Slone, Jerome
David Lloyd, Jerome
New year, new look, new conference.
The offseason featured plenty of change in the now-former Great Basin and District 5-6 conferences. Preston, Pocatello, and Century decided to disband from the combined District 5-6 league to join the schools in District 4, while Mountain Home chose to abandon the 4A Southern Idaho Conference in District 3 and join in on the fun happening in District 4.
As a result, the Great Basin Ten Conference was born, spanning a total of more than 250 miles from west to east. But the idea behind the conference was stability – and an opportunity for more berths to state tournament events.
If you combine the finishes at state from last season between the schools that are now representing the Great Basin Ten, you’ll find that all four schools which made it to state came home with a trophy – a clean sweep. Preston earned their third straight state championship, defeating Burley in a thrilling title game. Century secured the third place trophy with a win over Skyview, while Twin Falls outgunned Bishop Kelly to take home the consolation trophy.
It was, in one word: dominant.
Now, with all of these schools joining forces, they are making a bid to be the toughest 4A league in the state. Whoever emerges with one of the three state tournament bids in hand will be well prepared for anything that comes their way in Boise in early March.
“It’s going to be a dog fight with all four teams that got a state trophy now in the same conference,” said Century’s Ryan Frost.
“I think this is the toughest conference in the state,” said Minico’s Ty Shippen. “This year, only three teams get to go to state so it will be very competitive.”
The preseason favorite in the conference is Twin Falls. The Bruins, led by longtime head coach Matt Harr, bring back a plethora of talent that all saw impactful time on the floor last season as they were a junior heavy squad.
Returning this season are a host of seniors, including guards Faust Ystueta, Winston Duggan, Wyatt Haszier, Collin Aardema, Lucas Young and Gage Plew. Down low, it’s seniors Mitchell Brizee, Ryan Ball, and Hudson Klundt that will anchor the middle.
Harr knows that his team’s experience from last season will pay off in their quest for a state title this year.
“We have experience. We only lost one starter from last year’s consolation championship team. Everyone else is back,” said Harr, whose team posted a 16-12 record last year. “We had nine juniors that played a lot last year and all nine are back this year. A full year to mature both physically and mentally will be huge for us.”
Twin Falls also has a big height advantage on most teams that they will face this season with six players that stand 6’3” or taller, including Mitchell Brizee at 6’10” and Ryan Ball at 6’9”. That will certainly help the Bruins on the defensive end.
“We always feel like we are a good defensive team so our focus this year will be to use our depth to push the ball more and score more night-in and night-out,” said Harr. “We need to keep getting tougher and make sure we play together.”
The gritty toughness that Twin Falls wants to play with is the same goal of the Century Diamondbacks. For head coach Ryan Frost, it all starts on the defensive end for his crew.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” said Frost, now in his second season as the lead man at Century. “Our pressure defense will lead to transition offense. We need to rebound well if we want to get into our transition offense.”
Frost, who guided the Diamondbacks to a third place finish at state last year, feels that last year’s team really set the tone for what Century basketball should look like. The team earned a 17-12 overall record.
“Our seniors will have some big shoes to fill. I do think we have more depth this year and this will be the kids second year in our system.”
Back in the fold for Century are seniors Deshun Harwell and Max Rogers, who will be leaned on for leadership. Carson Zink and Titan Fleischmann will also play key roles for Century. Frost also said that Bryson Schaugaard, Kody Smoot, Andrew Gunter, and Ethan Burke are ready to make key contributions to the varsity squad this year.
“Our team has put in a lot of work in the offseason, specifically our two returning starters in Deshun and Max. I’m excited to see who steps up because we have multiple guys who can score the ball.”
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Preston the last three seasons.
The Indians had a perfect season last year, posting a 26-0 record and winning their third straight state basketball championship. It was the 10th time in IHSAA history that a team has won at least three consecutive basketball titles and the first time ever in the 4A classification.
While Twin Falls may be the preseason conference favorite, most if not all eyes are still on Tyler Jones’ squad in Preston. The Indians will be looking to become only the fourth team since 1917 to win four straight state titles and would join Moscow (1917-1920), Capital (1975-1978), and Firth (2007-2010) in that illustrious category.
But that’s a long ways off. The Indians have a brand new group this year with many key contributors that graduated from last year’s team. Experience is a department that they self-admittedly lack in this time around.
“Our goal is to gain experience and improve as the season goes on and be playing our best at the end of the season,” said Jones, now in his ninth season leading the Indians. “Inexperience is a concern and trying to gel and get good chemistry with a whole new group is something we will work on and improve on.”
Preston graduated their top six players from last season’s title team, including 4A Player of the Year Brayden Parker, Derek Wadsworth, Britten Atkinson, Chance Hart, Dixon Ware, and Kyler Burbank. Wadsworth and Atkinson were named All-State selections a year ago.
Scoring points may not have been a problem for Preston last year, but they are definitely going to have to find new sources of offense in this new campaign.
“We lost 95 percent of our point production from last year,” said Jones. “Our JV team was solid last season and we have some talent and skill, but we don’t have a lot of experience and we hope to get better as we go and gain that experience.”
The Indians will continue to have a solid post presence with the return of Ty Hyde, Riley Parker, Tyler Parker, and Rett Robertson. On the guard line, Luke Smellie will orchestrate the offense along with Scott Dunn, Garrett Ward, and Cooper Hobson, who transferred in from West Side.
“We want to play fast and get up and down the court and get out in transition,” Jones said, “but we will go as far as our defense and rebounding will take us. If we can defense and rebound we will compete and be in a lot of games.”
With only three bids to the state tournament from the league this year, every team will have to be on point in every game. Minico is hoping that they can find the momentum late and steal a berth to the tournament. Spartans’ head coach Ty Shippen says this year’s Minico squad reminds him of one he coached not long ago.
“This team reminds me a lot of our team we had a few years ago that went to the state semifinals,” he said. “They have length, they are scrappy on defense, and they want to compete.”
Those are certainly qualities needed in this conference in order to have a shot at the state tournament this year. Minico posted a 15-9 record last season.
After falling short of a tournament berth by a mere four points last year, Minico is using that loss as fuel to their preparations for the upcoming season. Shippen remarked that his team’s chemistry has been great thus far.
“The players like each other and enjoy playing together. They work hard every day and are fun to coach. The chemistry is evident in practice compared to a year ago. It’s refreshing to coach this group,” he said.
Returning to the floor this season for Minico are standouts Kobe Matsen and Kasen Carpenter. Matsen, who is a 6’8” senior, will man the middle of the floor while Carpenter, a 6’5” junior, will see a majority of his minutes at shooting guard.
“Kobe is a three-year starter with length and athleticism,” said Shippen.
Junior Rylan Chandler will handle to point guard duties along with senior Abe Guzman. Watch for juniors Dillon Ball, Connor Stocking, Micah Nava, Dakota Durfee, and Phillip Boettcher along with senior Jacob Durrant to play key roles on the floor.
“We have two experienced point guards in Rylan and Abe coming back from last year’s team. We have got some solid wings that can really shoot the three-pointer well led by sharpshooter Kasen Carpenter. Jacob and Micah can really help spread the floor along with Dillon and Dakota. They will bring a lot to our team including a tough, gritty, defensive component,” said Shippen, who noted that Boettcher and Stocking are coming along nicely with their skill and drive.
Minico is a multi-faceted team that feels they have the skills and personnel to adapt to what’s happening on the floor and beat a team in myriad of ways.
“We are a very versatile team. We run the floor well and are a much improved passing team and defensive team already,” Shippen said. “We can score in a lot of ways and we are learning fast. Our goal is to become a better defensive team and better in transition on both ends of the floor than we were last year.”
Southward across the Snake River, Minico’s archrivals, the Burley Bobcats, will be faced with replacing six seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad that fell to Preston in the 4A title game.
“Those six seniors really carried the load for us. They brought a lot of experience and toughness to our team,” said Burley head coach Trent Whiting. “This year, we are young and inexperienced by have a lot of toughness.” The Bobcats went 21-5 a year ago.
The Bobcats lost several key players to graduation, including Ryan Bagley, Andrew Ferrin, and Jackson Hill, but do return All-State selection Jace Whiting to the team this year along with junior Ethan Gibbons. Guards Riley Loveland and Ridge Garrard will also be counted on for increased production as they move up to the varsity ranks.
The younger Whiting will be leaned on quite a bit for leadership and offensive production while the Bobcats iron out the wrinkles of their potential early on.
“Jace was our second leading scorer last year, so most of the offensive burden and leadership will fall on his shoulders,” said the elder Whiting. “Ethan is a returner that brings athleticism and leadership and I expect him to carry a significant role this year in our offensive production as well.”
Despite the youth movement, Whiting feels that this season is a great opportunity to see the potential of the future of Burley basketball.
“With any young team comes a lot of challenges as far as wins and losses go, but I’m excited about the underclassmen we have coming through the program,” he said. “There will be an opportunity for several underclassmen to log significant minutes this year and it makes me excited to see how much we can progress this year from the start of the season to the end.”
He noted that even with so many new faces on the varsity squad that his team already has great chemistry and loves to play together.
“I can see us sharing the ball well this year and having several others step up offensively to help carry the load,” Whiting said. “This team will work hard and bring a fighting spirit to the court every night. I love players who want to compete and this group wants to compete. We will see down the road how that can translate into good basketball.”
The ‘down the road’ moment for Burley’s new conference opponent, the Mountain Home Tigers, is now.
“We are a lot better as a team this year than we were last year,” said Tigers head coach Brion Bethel. “This year, I have guys that are entering their second and third years in the program and we are a lot further ahead this year than we were last year at this time.”
Mountain Home finished the 2017-18 campaign with an 8-15 record while playing in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference in District 3. Now that they have moved over to District 4, they hope that their offseason work has put themselves in position to play well in the loaded Great Basin Ten Conference.
“We have a group of guys that have really put the time in off the court to increase their basketball IQ in watching lots of film and their overall athletic ability with offseason workouts,” said Bethel.
That group includes returning seniors Jared Adams and Nehemiah Parker along with juniors Kane Binkley and Noah Moseley. Both Adams and Parker were All-Conference selections last year.
Bethel said that Adams will be a major difference maker for the Tigers squad this year.
“Jared moved in late last season and only played the last few weeks, but is a big time athlete and player,” he said.
Bethel also noted that his son, freshman guard Brandon Bethel, will play a key role for the Tigers varsity team in 2018-19.
“He sees the court well and is a true point guard and floor general. He has a high basketball IQ,” said the elder Bethel.
With a good mix of experience, athletic ability, and basketball knowledge, Bethel believes that his team can turn some heads in the conference this season, especially with an exciting style of play.
“Our team is very athletic,” he said. “Offensively, we get the ball inside at every position very well – to the guards on the post as well as our forwards. We will be a high tempo team that gets out and runs and plays above the rim.”
Bethel said to expect a pack line man defense, aimed at keeping teams off of the offensive glass while applying full court man pressure.
A team that will be looking for a rebound performance this season is Pocatello.
The Indians, led by sixth year head coach Joe Green, are hoping their continuity in personnel from last year’s team will pay off as they were a junior-heavy squad a year ago. Pocatello went 3-20 during the 2017-18 season.
The crew will be without the services of starting guard Kobee Gunter for the season, as he suffered a serious leg injury during football season. But Pocatello does return several key contributors from last year’s team, including Tyler Olsen, Isaac Brown, Sheldon Romriell, Payton Cleaves, Jadyn Downs, and Kaden Hales.
Other coaches in the conference believe that Pocatello has the ability to make some noise in the new Great Basin Ten.
“Pocatello returns a lot of starters and may be overlooked,” said Twin Falls’ Matt Harr.
“They were young last year and that will pay dividends this year,” noted Burley’s Trent Whiting.
Jerome finds themselves in a similar situation to Pocatello this season.
The Tigers, who were a young crew last year, didn’t lose any key players from their 8-16 squad and bring back much of their talent, including guards David Lloyd, Garrett Elison, Anikin Hernandez, and James Slone.
The orange-and-black are a guard heavy team this year, as also joining the returners are junior guards Jarom Wallace, Stockton Lott, Angel Moreno, and Xander Whitby, with junior forward Isaac Peters also in the rotation.
“We are definitely a much smaller team than last year, but our guard and perimeter play has improved,” said Jerome head coach Joe Messick, now in his 12th season as the Tigers’ bench boss.
With the team now a year older and wiser, Messick says that his crew is fully aware of what is expected from them and how they need to work in order to achieve their goals.
“These kids understand the system and the expectations,” he said. “The work ethic and dedication that this group brings to the floor each day is exciting. These kids are unselfish and they play for each other.”
Messick knows that the Tigers will have to mix-it-up on the defensive end this season to combat their overall size deficiencies.
“Our lack of size and ability to rebound are definitely concerns,” he said, adding that he is looking to Lloyd and Elison to be their defensive leaders. “We need to really defend the basketball, eliminate penetration, and be fundamentally sound on every defensive possession.”
On the opposite side, however, their size issues can lead to Jerome playing more of a small-ball style of offense, which can cause headaches for teams with much taller players on the interior.
“We will run a variety of sets to our best scoring threats, including Slone, Hernandez, Whitby, Lloyd and others,” said Messick. “We must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and we must attack the rim when we have opportunities. Consistent perimeter shooting, sharing the basketball, making the extra pass, and taking great shots will be key.”
“We must have great offensive possession and create second and third opportunities with hustle plays and rebounding, score out of transition, be aggressive attacking the rim, and be able to get to the free throw line.”
If Jerome can do that on a consistent basis, they very well could wreak havoc on the Great Basin Ten Conference standings this season.
Much like Jerome and Pocatello did this last year, Canyon Ridge will go through the youth movement this season.
For third-year head coach Darren Van Hofwegen, he’s not sure how his young players will react in moving up to the varsity level. Canyon Ridge went 8-12 a year ago.
“We lost a good senior group and are reloading with a large group of juniors from the JV” he said. “For the most part, this team is coming into their first year of varsity experience.”
A couple of seniors will look to lead the way for the Riverhawks, including guard Avery Rambur and forward Jaymund Dyer. They are joined by juniors Louie Cresto, Sheldon Flanary, Aaron Barnes, and Bam Kondracki. These players will make key contributions to Canyon Ridge’s season.
Van Hofwegen noted that this group of players is self-motivating, which is something that he is excited to see in his program.
“They motivate themselves and each other and that is something that is unique to the culture that we are trying to instill,” he said, adding that his team’s main strength is their chemistry and cohesiveness.
“I know that’s cliché, but they really play better together as a unit.”
The Wood River Wolverines hope to find the cohesion that led them to some upset wins a year ago in the district tournament.
Wood River, led by head coach John Radford, nearly got themselves into a winner-to-state game following elimination wins over Canyon Ridge and Jerome before bowing out in a three-point loss to Minico. Wood River finished the year with a 7-18 record, but they certainly improved over the course of the season and started to peak during the district tournament.
The Wolverines are led this season by junior guard Johnny Radford and he will be flanked by senior Brayden Olson along with Walter Kriesien, Alonso Estrade, Isaac Loomis, Levi Newhouse, and Kade Heitzman.
Finding that cohesion as a unit will be the key to any sustained success that they may find during the 2018-19 season.