BELGRADE -- In a normal year, high school basketball would already be in full swing, but because of the delayed season games won’t start till after the new year. Players and coaches want nothing more than to tip off their seasons right now, but for first-year coaches like Belgrade's Luke Powers, having this extra time is beneficial.
"There’s such a giant learning curve with a new coach, new program," said Powers. "To start where we are right now, we're going to be OK, young and a little bit small. We’re going to struggle, I think, with teams' physicality at times, but as far as basketball talent and their will to learn and get better, we’re going to be competitive.”
While the Panthers are adjusting to their new coach, they’re also still adjusting to their new classification. They were bumped up to Class AA last season, which was hard to navigate with a young team.
With only two seniors graduating last season, this year’s team is still just as young, but the Panthers' leading scorer, Taveus Randle, is returning to the court this winter.
“He’s going to be one of the best point guards in AA. He’s special," said Powers. "He played last year as a sophomore, started for them, but he was at like 5-(foot)-9, 5-10. All of a sudden he’s 6-1."
With a new offense installed that utilizes the high post, his added height only makes him a bigger threat.
“I can play more inside and out now," said Randle, now a junior point guard. "I can shoot 3s. I can drive a lot more. I can play better defense now. It’s nice being taller.”
Wyatt Russell will also be a young leader on the court. He played as a sophomore last year and said the team’s improvement is already leaps and bounds from last year.
“We just have a lot more chemistry this year," said Russell, a junior guard. "Our new offense is helping us a lot. Last year we were a lot more perimeter and just kind of hoping we were making all our 3s. This year we have a lot more action, and we’re always doing something. It’s a lot better.”
The Panthers will host Great Falls on Jan. 5 to tip off their season.