Prep basketball seasons officially tipped off last Friday with a handful of games across the state. Most teams don’t get into the action until later this week when preseason tournaments and invitationals get going.
These early season tournaments often times give fans interesting non-conference matchups between teams that won’t see each other until the state tournament. But coaches are usually just feeling out their rosters this time of year – seeing what kind of team they have and which combinations of players work the best.
So while the coaches analyze their teams, what better time for me to roll out my first-ever preseason all-state teams? Based off of last season’s results, these are players I expect to have big seasons for their respective teams (Note: These are my opinions only. No coaches or players provided any input to these lists.). We’ll start with the four boys classes today and get to the girls classes early next week.
Danny Robison, Billings West, forward – Robison was a big contributor for the Bears last season and has steadily improved over the last two years. He looks like he had a very good summer and should be a dominant post presence for West, as the Bears try to get back to the state title game for the sixth season in a row. Robison is my preseason pick for the AA’s most valuable player.
Riley King, Missoula Sentinel, guard/forward – King might be the best all-around player in the class, as he can beat opponents in a variety of ways. The lefty senior is quick enough to penetrate from the outside and tall enough to take smaller defenders down low.
Zach Peevey, Missoula Hellgate, forward – Peevey was great at the state tournament last year and should be the leader of another strong Hellgate team. With Connor Woodill graduating last year, Peevey will likely be asked to carry more of the scoring load.
Russ Morin, Great Falls CMR, forward/center – Morin is the Rustlers’ top returner and should lead the team in both scoring and rebounding this season. On most nights, he’ll be the biggest player on the floor, so expect to see a lot of double-doubles from him.
Ryan Edwards, Kalispell Glacier, center – As a sophomore, Edwards earned second team all-conference honors for the Wolfpack. At the state tournament last year, it looked like his offensive game was still a work in progress, but – at the very least – he should be able to affect games with his rebounding and shot blocking.
Riley Bradshaw, Corvallis, guard – Bradshaw has already committed to play college basketball at Utah State, and he’s the consensus best player in the state. I’ve had one coach tell me that opponents have to focus three defenders on Bradshaw at all times.
Austin Barth, Columbia Falls, forward/center – The Wildcats’ title-defense will likely hinge on Barth’s success. The 6-6 senior came up big for Columbia Falls last season and figures to have another solid season in the Northwestern A.
Wes Knox, Dillon, forward – After advancing to the State A title game last season, the Beavers return a loaded roster for the 2011-12 season. Knox is arguably the best player in the lineup.
Ryan Burke, Billings Central, guard/forward – Burke has already committed to Montana football as a wide receiver. He’s a streaky shooter but can fill up the stat sheet and will be vital to the Rams’ success.
Ryan Sullivan, Sidney, guard/forward – Along with Burke, Sullivan earned all-state honors in the Eastern A last season. The Eagles are a popular pick to qualify for the state tournament, and Sullivan will likely play a big role. He’s a slasher-scorer type that can create matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Taylor Hanks, Wolf Point, guard – Hanks is one of two returning starters for the defending state champion Wolves. He – along with Mechiah Zilkoski – lead an experienced Wolf Point team.
Luke Schwagler, Forsyth, guard – As a freshman last season, Schwagler stepped up with some big games at the Southern B divisional tournament. The lefty point guard is an exciting playmaker.
Kendall Denham, Malta, guard – Denham comes from a basketball family, and the Mustangs will need a big season from him to have success this year. He can do a little bit of everything and could have a solid all-around season.
Quinn McQueary, Manhattan, forward – As was the case last season, Manhattan has a tall roster with high expectations. The Tigers have nine players who stand 6-2 or taller. McQueary – at 6-3 – might be the best of the group.
Layne Simon, Whitehall, forward – Simon was one of the best players in the Southern B last season and helped take Whitehall on a surprising postseason run. Another lefty, Simon can knock down the three, or take defenders inside.
Jace Anderson, Saco-Whitewater, guard – Anderson might be one of the best shooters in the state, regardless of class. He’s a tremendous scorer for the Panthers and can get points in bunches.
Kyle Wilson, Melstone, guard – Broncs coach Jason Grebe said Wilson could go down as the best player he’s coached at Melstone. Those are high expectations with the likes of Kale Eike and Adam Weisz playing under Grebe in recent years.
Dakota Smith, Absarokee, forward – Smith has the potential to dominate in District 6C. He’s an outstanding rebounder and should be a double-double machine for the Huskies.
Clint Williams, Dutton-Brady, forward – Dutton-Brady took third place at the State C tournament last year and could make another deep postseason run behind another strong season from Williams. Williams can beat teams in the paint but can extend his game to the perimeter.
Cody Pierson, Twin Bridges, forward – Pierson was a difference-maker in the 8-Man football championship and should be equally as important on the basketball floor. He was a freshman on the Falcons’ state championship basketball team in 2009 when his brother, Clay, anchored the middle.