UPDATE (1/24/15): Lame Deer's Evan Elkshoulder continued his assault on the 30-point club this week. After scoring 35 points on three consecutive nights last week, Elkshoulder went for 39 against Broadus on Thursday, giving him a state-leading six 30-point games.
The list has been updated with Elkshoulder's performances — and all the others who qualified this week. If you notice anyone missing, let us know. Contract info is below.
UPDATE (1/17/15): Shepherd's John Mushaben and Columbus' Tanner Osborne went back-and-forth in a triple overtime thriller on Saturday. In the end, Shepherd won 73-69 behind Mushaben's 31 points. Osborne had 30 for the Cougars, and both he and Mushaben made their first appearances in the 30-point club this season.
Elsewhere, Havre's Dane Warp put up 38 against Rocky Boy on Saturday, his third 30-point game of the season. And Valley Christian's Cameron Ireland went for 42, which ties him for the second-highest scoring game of the year.
Only two boys basketball teams won consecutive state championships in the past six years. Josh Huestis' Great Falls CMR teams did it in 2009 and 2010, and Malta won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
(Note: The first copy of this column incorrectly stated that CMR was the last team to win consecutive titles. My apologies to Malta on my oversight.)
Helena Capital, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Box Elder will try to add to that group this season as they defend their respective titles.
The girls paint a starkly different picture. Three of the defending state champions – Missoula Sentinel, Fairfield and Belt – have won at least three straight. Fairfield has four consecutive Class B titles and six of the last seven.
Havre was the fourth different Class A champion in as many years.
There are some really good basketball players in Montana right now.
An already strong boys class got a boost when Tres Tinkle decided to stay at Missoula Hellgate instead of going to Oregon with his dad. Wayne Tinkle accepted the job at Oregon State this year and eventually signed Tres to his 2015 recruiting class.
The girls class got its boost with the transfer of MorningRose Tobey. The new Billings West guard moved to Billings from Idaho. She signed to play college basketball at Nevada.
To highlight some of the best players in the state, here are my fourth annual preseason all-state teams. These lists have no bearing on the actual all-state teams that are named at the end of the season, but it’s a fun exercise all the same.
Class AA boys
Jared Samuelson, a 6-foot-7 senior-to-be at Billings West, picked up a scholarship offer to play college basketball at the University of Montana.
It’s the first offer from a Division I school for Samuelson, who also currently holds an offer from Division II Montana State Billings.
“I just feel blessed for both of the offers I’ve received,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson’s AAU team, Anthony Davis Select, just wrapped up a tournament in Seattle. They lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion.
Samuelson said he was also contacted by Seattle University, Columbia (N.Y) University and Santa Clara (Calif.) University following that tournament. He’s received phone calls and text messages from Air Force, Boise State, Denver, Idaho, Mary (N.D.), Montana State and Wyoming, as well.
It’s hard to make sense of the NCAA recruiting rules, but basketball coaches are entering into the first of three “evaluation periods” in July.
The first evaluation period is a five-day stretch beginning Wednesday afternoon. Tres Tinkle of Missoula Hellgate, Jared Samuelson of Billings West and Kendal Manuel of Billings Skyview are hoping to catch the attention of more Division I coaches during that time, as we’ve already chronicled.
Another West standout, Danny Betcher, is hoping to build off of earlier contact with the programs at Austin Peay (Tennessee), Portland State, Purdue, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Washington State.
“I just want to keep working hard,” the senior-to-be said. “I’m hoping that colleges will be interested; I’ll do everything I can to make it that way. I’m hoping to have an offer or two on the table by (high school) basketball.”
Betcher plays on the Montana Hoops AAU team, which includes athletes from around the state. Other players on the team are Tyler Thompson of Laurel, Adam Huse of Bozeman, Henry Garrett of Helena, Mark Lebsock of Hellgate and Matt Wyman and Lukas Vining of Great Falls.
It’s already been a whirlwind, headline-worthy spring for the Tinkle family.
They captured another one when ESPN.com released its updated list of 2015 college basketball recruits. Tres Tinkle, who just wrapped up his junior year of high school at Missoula Hellgate, appeared on the list at No. 46.
For a spring that’s already featured its share of accolades for the smooth 6-foot-7 lefty, this might be the biggest one. ESPN is the first major recruiting outlet to place Tinkle in the top 50, making him the highest ranked Montanan since ESPN began ranking recruits in 2007.
Tinkle is the son of former Montana basketball coach Wayne Tinkle. Wayne recently accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State, which has led many to speculate that Tres will don the Beavers’ orange and black when he makes his college decision. But Josh Gershon at scout.com caught up with Tres in May, who then said he still plans on going through the recruiting process.
In the more immediate future, though, is the question of where Tres will finish his high school career. If he elects to finish out at Hellgate, the Knights will likely be the preseason favorite to win the State AA championship.
One down, one to go.
That’s where we stand after Billings West hired Kelly Darragh to replace Doug Robison as the Bears’ boys basketball head coach, leaving Billings Skyview as the only vacant position. Skyview is expected to announce its new head coach in the coming weeks, after Toby Hill resigned earlier in the spring
Personally, I don’t know Darragh, but I do know his name came up early in the process. He appeared to be the frontrunner to get the job all along, despite West reportedly receiving interest from some big names in Montana coaching circles.
Darragh’s hiring makes a ton of sense, though. The West basketball program has had success at all levels the past 10 years under Robison, with Darragh as an assistant, so promoting from within allowed and encouraged continued growth.
By accounts from Darragh’s coaching peers, the players will love playing for him, too, which is as important now as it’s ever been. Fellow Class AA coaches John Cislo at Great Falls CMR and Guy Almquist at Helena Capital, who both know Darragh from before he joined the West staff, went to social media to express their support for Darragh.
Tres Tinkle is at it again. The 6-foot-7 Missoula Hellgate junior is already making waves playing spring basketball.
Tinkle attracted a lot of attention with his play on the AAU circuit last summer, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On Tuesday, Joel Francisco of ESPN.com recognized Tinkle as the best player at Sunday’s Earl Watson Elite Scouts Camp in Colorado.
“(Tinkle) has a knack of finding ways to score at all three levels,” Francisco wrote, “and his ability to attack the basket is uncanny. He needs to polish his off hand while attacking, but he is a top-50 national recruit.”
That’s high praise for Tinkle, who averaged 21.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.35 blocks per game during the past regular season for Hellgate. Most scouting services have him ranked just outside the top 100 nationally, but he could definitely see those rankings improve with strong showings this summer.
Tinkle has received offers from Boston College, Southern California and Utah, while also drawing interest from California, Gonzaga, Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon State and Davidson according to Francisco’s ESPN.com post. Tinkle said he likely won’t take any visits until the fall, listing unofficial visits to Cal and USC as possibilities.
The Midland Roundtable announced the Montana rosters for the 2014 Montana-Wyoming All-Star Basketball Series on Wednesday. The boys and girls games are slated for June 13 and 14.
The rosters have a distinct Class AA flavor. That’s typical, but this year it seems like there are even more AA players than normal. The boys’ breakdown: Six players are from the AA, three from Class A and one from Class B.
Class C is not represented on the boys’ team, which includes Bryden Boehning (Glendive), Oliver Carr (Bozeman), Carson Dummer (Helena Capital), Evan Epperly (Kalispell Glacier), Christian Evans (Bigfork), Kyle Harrington (Capital), Kooper Kidgell (Billings Senior), Jayse McLean (Great Falls CMR), Jared Schultz (Stevensville) and Troy Scott (Dillon).
The girls’ team, which appears to be as talented as any in recent memory, has six AA players, as well. There are two Class A players and one each from the B and C classifications.
Jill Barta (Fairfield), Michaela Dowdy (Capital), Katie Fertterer (Belt), Cassi Hashley (Glacier), Jace Henderson (Senior), Justyn Juhl (Billings Central), Maddie Keast (Missoula Sentinel), Olivia Roberts (Sentinel), Mika Robinson (Billings West) and Vanessa Stavish (Frenchtown) make up the roster.
Helena Capital boys 51, Missoula Hellgate 47
Kyle Nickol broke a tie game with two late 3-pointers, and Capital held on to defeat Hellgate 51-47 to win the AA boys championship Saturday night.
The game was a rematch of last year's title game, but this time the Bruins prevailed. Hellgate won last year's championship in overtime.
Nickol's first 3 came from the left wing to put Capital up 39-36 with 3:15 remaining. A minute later he buried a pull-up 3 from the corner from an inbound pass to put the Bruins up six.
Thursday will be a long day at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. The boys and girls combined State B basketball tournament tips off at 9 a.m. Eight games later, the first-round of the tournament will reach its conclusion.
Just because it’s a long day, though, doesn’t mean it won’t be an awesome day. There are lots of great players and teams at the tournament, so there should be some entertaining games. The first highly anticipated game is the girls’ matchup between Forsyth and Malta at 10:30 a.m.
The Dogies (22-1) won the Southern B divisional championship, while the M-ettes (22-1) suffered their first loss of the season in the Northern B championship against Fairfield.
“I think both of us play kind of the same style,” said Malta coach Nate Hammond. “It might be kind of fun to watch. I definitely think they’re a good team. I think they’re very well coached, too. We’ll have our hands full for sure.”
Fairfield coach Dustin Gordon pointed to the Malta-Forsyth game as the best first-round game on paper, as well. But his Eagles, 23-0 and winners of 101 consecutive games, have a challenging draw themselves when they play Manhattan (21-3) at 3:30 p.m.
Miles City boys 44, Glendive 41
Brac Warren's 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded lifted Miles City to a 44-41 victory over Glendive in an Eastern A boys semifinal game Friday night.
With three seconds left, Warren inbounded the ball at half court to Connor Torstenbo, who quickly gave it back to a cutting Warren. Warren pulled up from the top of the key and drained the game-winner.
Miles City will play Laurel on Saturday for the championship.
Former Great Falls CMR standout Josh Huestis is now the career blocks leader at the University of Stanford, according to the school’s athletics website. Huestis swatted his record-breaking 168th block Thursday against Southern California.
In that game, Huestis also scored 11 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds. After the game, JB Long of the Pac-12 Networks asked Huestis if the rebounds or blocks meant more to him.
“I guess I got to go with the blocks,” Huestis said in the post-game interview. “That’s the one that’s going to last. It’s going to keep my name (in the record books). People remember it.”
Huestis, a senior, added five more blocks in the Cardinal’s 83-74 win over No. 23 UCLA on Saturday to up his career total to 174. He is averaging 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game this season.
Tim Young set the previous school record of 167 from 1994-99, according to Stanford Athletics.
With the new Class AA basketball stats out, Mike Scherting shared some numbers that caught his eye on the girls’ side. Here are some of the eye-popping stats for the boys.
• Three of the top six leading scorers hail from Billings. Senior’s Kooper Kidgell leads the class at 21.7 points per game, just ahead of Kendal Manuel’s 21.4 ppg for Skyview. Missoula Hellgate’s Tres Tinkle (20.9 ppg), Bozeman’s Oliver Carr (20.0), Great Falls’ Brendan Howard (18.6) and West’s Jared Samuelson (17.9) are next. Only Kidgell and Carr on that list are seniors.
• In eight Eastern AA games, Jalen Whitley of Skyview is leading the conference in field goal percentage. Whitley is making better than 68 percent of his shots. Of the top 16 with at least 10 field goals made, though, Whitley’s 22 attempts are the fewest.
• Great Falls CMR has three of the top five 3-point shooters in the Eastern AA. Jayse McLean (46.2 percent), Dylan Halverson (42.9) and Andre Langhorne (41.7) are third, fourth and fifth in 3-point percentage. Lukas Vining of Great Falls High is shooting a blistering 57.1 percent from behind the arc in conference games.
• The top eight free throw shooters by percentage in the Eastern AA are all from Billings. Senior’s Eli Caekaert has made 8 of 9 from the line for the top spot. Kidgell has the most made free throws with 46.
The Associated Press basketball polls came out Wednesday. But for the third time this season there weren’t enough media members who voted in the polls to tally a respectable number of votes. Only seven people voted in this week’s polls.
The polls have always walked a somewhat contradictory line. The teams are voted on by media members who haven’t seen many (most) of them play, so there really isn’t much value in the system. That’s the primary argument for a team that doesn’t like its ranking.
On the flip side, though, if a team is happy with its ranking, it validates its play on the season.
So it’s a catch-22 for the media: Fans want to see their teams ranked, but they don’t want to see them ranked by clueless media members.
And we’re all clueless, me just as much as anybody else.
The Helena Capital boys basketball team has been the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll all season, including unanimous No. 1 honors the past three weeks.
The Bruins are 13-1 overall and 7-0 in the Western AA, which includes two wins over defending state champion Missoula Hellgate (which, by the way, has won five straight games and eight of nine).
So how have the Bruins got to the point where they are in complete control in the Western AA?
While their offense is in the middle of the pack in AA, the Bruins’ defense is the best in the class. Going into last week’s games, they were only allowing 46.6 points per game (for comparison’s sake, Hellgate is second at 48.8 points per game and Billings West is sixth at 55.4). That number improves in conference play, where Capital is only giving up 43.2 points per contest.
One other stat of note: Capital leads the class in 3-point field goals made and 3-point percentage. So even though their scoring output ranks seventh in the class (61.4 ppg), the Bruins have the capability to score in bunches. The 3-point line is a great equalizer, and coach Guy Almquist’s team is using it better than anybody else in AA.
The Hardin and Shepherd boys basketball teams combined to score 213 points in Tuesday’s triple-overtime game, setting the mark for the most points scored in a game this season. The Bulldogs won the game 108-105 by outscoring the Mustangs 11-8 in the third overtime.
Nine players scored in double figures, with John Mushaben leading the way with 43 points in the loss. Oliver Wallace scored 38, his fourth game this season scoring at least 30 points, for Hardin, which also got 20 from Milo Paz and 18 from Dominic LaForge.
Keen White Wolf added 14 and Kordell Cummins 13 for the victors.
Landon Murray (20), Auston Openshaw (17) and Hyrum Hanson (10) also hit double figures for Shepherd.
The 213 points eclipsed the 201 combined total scored by Lodge Grass and St. Labre last week. The Indians won that game 102-99 in regulation.
WORDEN — Huntley Project coach Mark Branger said this year’s Red Devils team compares to the 2010-11 Red Devils which finished second at the Southern B divisional tournament. Only this year’s team is better.
It’s hard not to agree with Branger after seeing his Red Devils earn a 65-64 win over Columbus on Thursday. Huntley Project trailed at the half by eight points, but used a huge third-quarter run to make it anybody’s contest going to the fourth.
Kaleb Reynolds sank two free throws to give the Red Devils the lead with under one minute to play. Columbus guard Kiefer McKay was unable to get a clean look and his 3-point attempt came up short at the buzzer, sending the Huntley Project faithful into a frenzy.
Senior guard Michael Harris reminds a lot of his older brother, TJ, who is now playing college basketball at the University of Great Falls. Michael seems to be a little taller (though he’s only listed at 5-foot-9) and lankier, but he has similar court vision and decision making.
Harris and Yancey Fitch are the Red Devils’ go-to scorers, and Branger implemented a dribble-drive offense in the second half that was quite effective. Harris and Fitch were able to penetrate off the dribble and either finish through contact (they had a lot of and-1 free throw opportunities) or find an open teammate.
Six of the eight top-ranked teams held onto their No. 1 spots in this week's Associated Press polls. The only teams to drop were the Missoula Sentinel and Saco-Whitewater girls. Sentinel lost to Helena Capital last week, and Saco-Whitewater was jumped by Belt.
Most of the polls are starting to sort themselves out: Seven teams received votes in the Class AA boys poll, six in Class A, 12 in Class B and 13 in Class C.
On the girls' side, only six AA teams received votes, five in Class A and 13 in Class B. The Class C girls poll had 16 different teams get mentioned.
You can find the polls in their entirety below (with first-place votes in parentheses and won-loss record, total points and position last week at right), along with how I voted and a brief reaction:
Even though they finished second at last year’s State C boys basketball tournament, the Westby-Grenora Thunder never quite could beat Fairview. They finally changed that on Saturday.
Westby-Grenora handed Fairview its first loss of the season with a 48-41 win after trailing 19-8 at halftime. The Thunder outscored the Warriors 40-21 in the second half, including a 22-9 edge in the fourth quarter.
Cooper Olson led the way for Westby-Grenora with 20 points.
The Warriors won the season’s earlier meeting in overtime.
The win doesn’t actually mean a whole lot in the District 2C standings right now. Fairview is still the top team in the conference with a 9-1 record, followed by Westby-Grenora at 9-2. But it’s a big win for the Thunder’s psyche.