The 2017-18 boys basketball season is approaching, with jamborees starting next week. Below is the Times-News’ classification-by-classification preview for District 4.
4A Great Basin Conference
The reigning GBC champions, Burley, will transition to new leadership this year, with former BYU guard Trent Whiting beginning his first season as head coach for the Bobcats.
Burley lost in the first round of the 4A state tournament to Vallivue last year, but fought its way to win the consolation trophy. Though Whiting said he is still learning a lot about his team, that process exemplified the characteristic he’s looking for most in his team: toughness.
“I think we have to work a little bit at our mental toughness so that we’re in it in every game, not just some games,” he said. “They’ve demonstrated the resolve to fight back, and I hope they continue to do that.”
Minico won third place in 2015 4A state tournament, but missed out on it last season after falling to Jerome in double overtime in the district tournament.
Spartans head coach Ty Shippen said one of the successful parts of the 2015 third-place campaign he hopes to replicate this season is creating fast-break opportunities.
“We had the most points per game at state tournament in 2015 because we ran the floor hard,” he said. “We felt like we struggled hard with that last year. We want to be more of an attack team and apply the pressure, not the other way around.”
Minico is losing some key players like Matthew Brumley, Tyson Durrant, Chase Chandler and Colton Hardy. But Shippen said the returning crew, including speedy ballhawk Larry Vega and Kobe Matsen, who leads the Spartans in size at 6-foot-7, will be up to the task.
The biggest impediment right now: football. The Minico football team plays Skyline in the 4A state title game on Friday.
“The biggest thing is when can we get started with our plan, because our football team is doing so well,” Shippen said.
3A Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference
Last season was the first time since 2012 that the Buhl Indians were not in the state tournament, thanks to the Gooding Senators.
Gooding won three of the five meetings between the two teams, including a 60-39 winner-take-all district tournament victory to clinch its first state tournament berth in 31 years.
The Senators reached the state semifinals, but lost to the eventual champions, Sugar-Salem, and were beaten by Kellogg in the third-place game.
Head coach Chris Comstock said that one tweak he hopes to make this year is to play the reserves more to get them more conditioned to game speed.
“We need to try to develop more depth and trust in all players,” he said. “We ran out of gas in that (Sugar-Salem) game, and that carried over into Kellogg game.”
The Senators graduated Bryson Comstock, Chris’ son and leading point scorer for the Senators last season. Bryson put up a 35-point performance to beat Buhl in the winner-take-all game, and he was named the Times-News SCIC player of the year last season.
Buhl will lose four seniors, including all-SCIC first-team forward Jim Elkin, forward Greg Loveless and guards Zyon Cleverley and Hunter Allred. But head coach Dan Winn said he expects forward Adam Lauda and point guard Garrett Bowman, who got minutes last season as sophomores, to step up for his team.
But he said Buhl will live or die by its defense, something that wasn’t clicking last year.
“If we want to get back there, we’re going to have to defend and rebound a lot better,” he said. “I’m hoping (junior) Peyton Rodig, our big man in the middle, will be our anchor in the paint.”
Winn also said not to count out Kimberly, who is returning seven seniors this year.
2A Canyon Conference
The story in the Canyon Conference last year was Declo’s impressive season under first-year head coach Jacoby Fox, who took the Hornets from a one-win 2015-2016 campagin to a district title the next year.
“I don’t know that there was a lot of optimism going in, but I feel like especially towards the end they started believing, ‘Hey, we’re a pretty good basketball team,’” he said.
It wasn’t as if Declo cruised through its competition, though. It didn’t even break .500, going 9-15. But the Hornets lost eight games by five points or fewer, including its two losses in the state tournament.
“Obviously that’s tough, but I think that shows the guys that if we put it together and learn how to finish, it makes us tough to beat,” Fox said.
Declo’s defense-oriented style of play showed against its District 4 foe, Wendell, as the Hornets didn’t allow the Trojans to put up more than 40 points in the four meetings between the teams, winning each time.
And with players like junior all-around athlete Keegan Duncan and junior guard McKay Breshears returning to the lineup, Fox says he thinks a state title run is in reach if his guys put the effort in.
“Even coming off a nine-win season and not winning a state tournament game, that doesn’t affect my confidence,” he said. “I fully expect us to be playing our best basketball in February.”
1A Division I Snake River Conference
Oakley came into last season with a third-place title to its name, and Raft River earned a consolation championship, but the 2016-2017 season would belong to the Valley Vikings, who earned the district title.
“Last season, I think we kind of flew under the radar and got better as the year went on,” Valley head coach Brian Hardy said. “This year will be different because I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody.”
Juan Rodriguez took over as Oakley’s athletic director and boys basketball coach earlier this year. He said the team is in a good position, as some players like junior forward Chandler Jones and junior guard Caleb Arnell got plenty of starting time last year after the loss of six seniors.
Rodriguez’s biggest goal is to create a team culture that succeeds.
“We’ve got to develop a system, one that’s holding people accountable and get that in place with a new season,” he said. “It was a top notch program under (former coach Travis) Noble, and I want to keep it that way.”
One observation Rodriguez made of last year’s team, which lost three of its last four games to miss the playoffs, was that the team just got burned out. Many of them were part of the football team that went to the state title game, and he felt like they weren’t given enough days rest before going into another long season.
“We’ll give them a couple days off this year and work them in slowly,” he said. “It may cost us one or two games to begin the season, but we want to play our best in February.”
Meanwhile, Hardy said the key for Valley this season will be mindset, and it starts in the preseason.
“They’ve got to have a strong mental approach because of the difference of the mindset that people have about them,” he said. “They’ve got to learn how to deal with that and be willing to put in the dirty work.”
1A Division II North Side Conference
The Dietrich Blue Devils made it back to the state title game last year, trying to defend their state title from 2016. But they lost a tight game to Genesis Prep, a team whose makeup drew the IHSAA to ban F1 (international) students from playing in the postseason beginning next year.
But Dietrich head coach Wayne Dill said his team has eyes on the state tournament once again.
“Getting to the state tournament and playing all three days: if you do that, you have a chance to bring home a trophy,” he said. “That’s a major goal.”
Though Dill is losing talent in players like Garrett Astle and Jake Smith, who Dill said had the best 3-point stroke on the team, he’s also returning a lot of players he sees as leaders, including his son, Slade Dill, a 6-foot-7 forward who has led the Blue Devils in rebounding the past two years.
“He gives us that height you need to play teams in tournaments, because those teams always have one or two big guys,” Coach Dill said.
Senior Cade Shaw also will be a big help to the team, Dill said, with experience as a starting point guard since sophomore year, but will potentially move to shooting guard as senior Shane VanCassel, another four-year veteran, will “run the show” from the point guard spot.
Perhaps the biggest divisional competition for the Blue Devils is Carey, which reached the state semifinals last year before being outmatched by Genesis Prep 68-33 and losing a close third-place game to Rockland 57-51.
But Dietrich outscored Carey by about 20 points on average in the two games they played last year, and with an experienced head coach in Dill, who is entering his 16th season with Dietrich’s varsity team, it’s a tough ask for the Panthers to upset Dietrich.
Even though Dill has high expectations for his team, he wants his style of basketball to be enjoyable to his team and fans.
“We want people to walk away and say, ‘Man, that was fun, he said. “If we do that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”