4A South East Idaho Conference Preview
Written by Madison Guernsey
Players to Watch
Bruin Fleischmann (Century)
Titan Fleischmann (Century)
Emmett Holt (Century)
Ryan Payne (Pocatello)
Jaxon Williams (Pocatello)
Gabe Hammons (Preston)
Cole Harris (Preston)
Nothing has stopped Preston from reaching the last five Class 4A state title games – not conference realignment, not an inexperienced roster, and not tough competition.
The Indians face all three entering the new season and have a slimmer margin for error than they have in the past.
As Preston chases a sixth-straight trip to the state championship stage, Century and Pocatello hope to play spoiler late in the season. The three District 5 teams comprise the entire South East Idaho Conference, which is only allotted one state tournament team.
So this time around, one late-season slip-up is all it takes to create a gap in a dynasty.
“Having only three teams will make things interesting,” Century coach Ryan Frost said. “The team that is hot at the right time will be going to the state tournament.”
Preston graduated six seniors from last season's squad that went 26-1 and won the state title. Key among them are Ty Hyde – the reigning 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year – and Luke Smellie, a first-team all-state honoree. It'll be up to former role players like Gabe Hammons, Cole Harris and Brecker Knapp to lead Indians back to the Idaho Center in March.
But that's not a new concept at Preston. Hyde, Smellie and Co. were of the same ilk when they took the Indians to a state runner-up finish as juniors in 2019.
“Our biggest weakness is we need game experience at the varsity level,” Preston coach Tyler Jones said. “We have a lot of guys who will get their first taste of varsity basketball to start the season. Hopefully, we can get better as we go and, at the end of the season, be able to make a run.”
Century is on the other side of the coin.
The Diamondbacks bring back four starters from last year's team that hit its stride late in the season, going 4-2 over its final six games. Century carries nine seniors, led by honorable mention all-conference guard Emmett Holt. They're backed by non-senior contributors, highlighted by junior Bruin Fleischmann, who was second-team all-conference last season.
Frost hopes his team's returning experience propels it to better results and a trip to state.
“I thought our team was playing well at the end of the year,” he said. “If we continue to get better like we did last year, then we will be a hard team to stop in February and March.”
Then there's Pocatello which, like Preston, was senior-heavy last season. The Indians haven't been to state since 2009, but have a 1-in-3 chance this season and hope to carry the football program's positive momentum into the gym.
Juniors Ryan Payne and Jaxon Williams – who have helped Poky's football team to back-to-back playoff appearances – contributed on the hardwood as sophomores and will be among the key players for a young Poky basketball squad. Freshman Julian Bowie also has potential to emerge as a top scoring option.
Pocatello fell to Bishop Kelly in a state play-in game last February, ending its season just short of state.
With only two other teams in their way, the youthful Indians only need to string a few good games together to upset the traditional pecking order.
“They will be young and dangerous and can shoot the ball well,” Jones said.