By Bill Foley
It is an unusual mix to be sure.
When the Butte Central boys’ basketball team opens the 2017-18 season next week, the Maroons will do so without a single senior on the roster. The Maroons will also be playing with a team loaded with varsity experience.
“There’s six guys with varsity experience from last year. That helps,” said BC head coach Brodie Kelly, who is entering his 14th season in charge of the Maroons. “We still are young. We’ve got to keep that in perspective, too.
“It’s an unusual mix of youth and experience. You usually don’t see that many young guys with that much experience.”
Juniors Cade Holter and Dan McCloskey will be playing varsity for the third year. Sophomores Luke Heaphy, Aaron Richards, Matt Simkins and Jared Simkins are in their second year playing varsity.
Junior guard Dylan Sestrich will join the varsity squad after missing last season with an injury.
Sophomores Braden Harington, Trevor Neumann and Thomas McGree will also figure into the varsity mix for the Maroons, who advanced to Saturday morning of the Class A State tournament at the Butte Civic Center in March.
Heaphy, McCloskey, Holter, Richards and Matt Simkins will be the starting five to begin the season. Sestrich will be the first guy off the bench.
Jared Simkins, who broke his arm in BC’s playoff football game in Dillon, will likely be cleared to play again on Monday, Dec. 11.
Kelly, a coach who is rarely — if ever relaxed — during the basketball season, said his team is closing in on being ready to play.
“I’m comfortably uncomfortable,” Kelly said. “I’m excited, I am. If Jarred was in the mix right now, I’d be feeling much better.”
One reason Kelly is upbeat to start the season is his roster. To be more specific, he likes the “height” column of his roster.
Butte Central will be quite literally looking down on most of the competition this season.
Other than Heaphy (5-foot-9) and Neumann (5-10), the BC roster is full of players standing at least 6-foot.
“This is the biggest team that I’ve ever coached,” Kelly said.
How big? Well, the coach had a hard time believing it when he was finalizing his roster for the season.
“We asked them their heights the other day, and we felt like some guys were fudging,” Kelly said. “So we took out the tape, and Aaron, Matt and Jared are all legitimate 6-4 and half. Sestrich is 6-3.”
McCloskey and Harrington stand 6-1, while Holter and McGree are 6-foot.
“We had a team one year that was a 6-and under team,” Kelly said. “We’ve had a couple like that.”
The Butte Central varsity squad is so big that the junior varsity players aren’t big enough to really challenge them in practice. So, don’t bet on the junior varsity winning the Maroon and White scrimmage, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Maroon Activities Center.
“You’ve got a 5-10 guy guarding a 6-4 guy in the post,” Kelly explained. “It’s coming too easy.”
So, as you can imagine, the Maroons will feature more of an inside game than in the past. Actually, the transformation from the offense that shot a ton of 3-pointers each season has been a slow process that began a couple of years ago.
“The last few years we’ve been kind of tweaking our offense from what we used to run when we were shooting so many threes,” Kelly said. “We still have it in our package, but our offense now is much more post-oriented.”
The size will help the Maroons as they look to replace three long-time starters — Sam Johnston, Tanner Kump and Nate McGree — to graduation. The Maroons also lost senior Tyge Yelenich to the season with a knee injury he suffered on the golf course.
Central will play Whitefish and Polson in the Tipoff tournament at the Adams Center next Friday and Saturday in Missoula.
That is the start of a brutal December schedule for the Maroons. BC will play its home opener against Dec. 15 against Frenchtown. After hosting Stevensville and Belgrade, the Maroons close the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule at Hamilton on Dec. 22.
January doesn’t start off any easier. The Maroons come back from the holiday break Jan. 4 at Dillon. The Butte High-Butte Central game is Jan. 11.