6. Twin Falls
7. Wood River
8. Canyon Ridge
9. Mountain Home
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jace Whiting, Burley
Johnny Radford, Wood River
Brandon Bethel, Mountain Home
Haylen Walker, Twin Falls
Ryker Anderson, Twin Falls
Luke Smellie, Preston
Ty Hyde, Preston
Garrett Elison, Jerome
Xander Whitby, Jerome
Andrew Gunter, Century
Titan Flieschmann, Century
Louie Cresto, Canyon Ridge
4A Great Basin Conference Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
With 10 teams crowding their way into this year’s Great Basin Conference, the sheer amount of talented squads may prove to be overwhelming in what should be an exciting title race.
Sitting at the top of the Great Basin, Preston looks more than capable of flying past everyone en route to the state tournament. The Indians were one of three in the conference to appear in the tournament, and they represented their conference well, reaching the finals and eventually falling to Idaho Falls 66-57 in overtime.
Preston returns three key seniors, with two who all earned conference honors last year. Point guard Like Smellie and center Ty Hyde should provide the locker room leadership necessary for the Indians to repeat their successful season from a year ago.
“We are excited to have three starters back from our team that played in the state championship returning,” said Preston head coach Tyler Jones. “We have a lot of experience back and players that know how to win.”
Jones, a veteran coach entering his 11th year with the Indians, will be on the hunt for his team’s third state title, with the most recent just two years ago. Attempting to help their coach add hardware to the Preston trophy case will be junior forward Cole Harris, guard Gabe Hammons and sophomore guard Brecker Knapp, all newcomers to the varsity squad.
“We will try to play at a fast pace and push the ball up the court,” Jones said. “We are a little deeper than we've been in the past. We are hoping as the season goes, we will get our younger guys some experience and they can come in and contribute.”
That deep bench will need to execute on every level, as Preston enters the season without last year’s second-team all-conference selection Cooper Hobson, who tore his ACL over the summer. Jones said Hobson was instrumental in building the Preston offense, with 68 3-pointers to his name last year.
Chasing the dominant Indians, Century returns three seniors from last season behind third-year head coach Ryan Frost.
Coming off an impressive 22-6 season, the Diamondbacks defeated Columbia in the opening round of last year’s state tournament before falling to Preston in a Great Basin showdown 65-49. With the C seed, the Diamonds did eventually defeat Vallivue for a third-place trophy.
“Last year our team allowed 47 points per game, an all-time low for Century,” Frost said. “It will be hard to replicate what we did last year on defense, but I believe we will have more weapons on offense.”
Frost said that increased offensive production will revolve around getting his stars into double-digit point totals, while the rest of the teams excels in assists, rebounds and strong defense.
“It’s always fun to watch young players increase their role on the team,” Frost said. “We have a lot of good basketball players that will be fighting for minutes.”
Players like seniors Andrew Gunter and Nathan Manning will look to fill the void left by star players Deshun Harwell and Max Rogers. Manning left the Century program as last year’s leading scorer and the Great Basin defensive player of the year.
Burley, tied for fourth with Pocatello, represents the middle of the pack in a crowded conference, a team with enough weapons to make a run, but undersized compared to the favorites like Preston, Minico and Century.
“I’m most excited about this group of boys because they have great chemistry off the court as much as they do on the court,” said head coach Trent Whiting. “It will be fun to coach a group of boys that enjoy playing with each other.”
Senior point guard Jace Whiting stands as the brightest star for the Bobcats, with a commitment to Boise State University already locked up. Whiting finished last year as an all-conference selection to go with his second-team all-state honor.
But Whiting won’t be alone as three more seniors, along with junior guard Jarrett Orthmann, will comprise an impressive starting lineup.
“The biggest difference between this year’s team from last year is experience,” Frost said. “We started four juniors last year and had two other juniors and sophomores play significant minutes last year. It gave an opportunity to a lot of younger kids to develop and progress. We’re hoping that experience will lead to more success this season.”
Also solidly in the middle of the pack, Twin Falls hopes to make it back to the state tournament after a 22-4 season consolation championship in 2018-2019. The Bruins fell to eventual champion Idaho Falls, but defeated Moscow and Columbia.
“We had one of the top teams in the state last year, so I think it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two teams,” said head coach Matt Harr when comparing this year’s and last year’s. “I think last year’s team was in midseason form to start the season. This year’s squad will take a while but I’m confident we will be competitive by mid-January.”
Eight seniors departed from the Bruins last spring, leaving three seniors in their place in point guard Haylen Walker, post Ryker Anderson and post Houston Jones.
“Honestly, this year is wide open,” Frost said. “We lost 99% of our scoring, so we will see who will step up. I like our work ethic, but it’s going to take us a while to find our identity and see who will step up. Everyone will get their shot. I think we will see a lot of improvement as the year goes.”
After a 9-13 season, head coach Darren Van Hofwegen and the Canyon Ridge Hawks will be on the search for their first state title. Van Hofwegen enters his fourth year of the program and said there’s plenty of experience on this year’s roster.
“We are basically the same team from last year,” he said. “We lost some shooting when Avery graduated, but we are hopeful we reload with Ryker, Brody, and Jayden’s ability.”
Junior guard Ryker Holtzen got the call up from JV, along with junior guard Brody Osen and sophomore forward Jayden Kelso, giving the Hawks plenty of youth to compliment the leadership of senior center and last year’s third-team all-conference selection Louie Cresto.
“We like to throw the ball into Louie and let him take high-percentage shots,” Van Hofwegen said. “We hope to shoot a lot more consistent this year to be multidimensional.”
Rounding out the conference, Mountain Home and Jerome will look to earn respect in the Great Basin. The Tigers finished 11-13 last season and welcome back three seniors in Kane Binkley, Noah Mosely and Hyrum Wright. Sophomore guard Brandon Bethel also returns. As a freshman, Bethel lit up the Mountain Home court, earning al all-conference honor.
“We’ll be more disciplined and be able to execute at a very high level. Brandon Bethel and Kane Binkley have both had a great offseason and will be instrumental in our success,” said head coach Brion Bethel. “This group also has great team chemistry on and off the court. This is one of the most humble, team and family-oriented groups I’ve ever coached and it shows in all they do.”
Meanwhile, the Jerome Tigers will be led by head coach Joe Messick for the 13th year. The Tigers look to rebound from a 3-18 year with the help of senior guard Garrett Elison.
“Defensively, we will mix it up and try and keep teams off balance. Our lack of size and ability to rebound are definitely concerns. Garrett Elison will be our defensive leader,” Messick said. “Offensively, we will run a variety of sets to our best scoring threats. Consistent perimeter shooting will be key.”