By Bill Foley
Seriously, Luke Powers says he has a team that can really knock down shots.
The Butte High boys’ basketball coach stopped practice briefly Friday afternoon to emphasize this point after his Bulldogs went cold during the second half of their day-after-Thanksgiving workout.
“We shoot really well,” Powers said after the practice at the Richardson Gym. “The Roth kid, he can absolutely fill it up. Clay Ferguson can fill it up. Kash is capable of shooting. Tommy is capable of shooting. Kale McCarthy is capable of shooting. Our lone senior, Lathan Ricketts, can really shoot it.”
Even 6-foot-4 Zach Carlson, who might be the closest thing to a post player the Bulldogs will have in their seven-man varsity rotation, can knock down some 3-pointers.
“Of the seven who are out there, every one of them can shoot a 3-pointer.” Powers said.
Ricketts, as Powers pointed out, is the lone senior on the roster. Ferguson, McCarthy, Carlson, Kash Kelly and Trevyn Roth are juniors, while Tommy Mellott is a sophomore.
Other players on the varsity roster who will see most of their time in junior varsity games — at least for now — are juniors Jake Vetter and Marty Hanley, sophomores Andrew Booth, Ryan Burt and Kaven Noctor, and freshmen Billy Kelly and Jacob Olson.
Olson, the son of former Butte High Bulldog and Montana Grizzly Bob Olson, is already 6-4. Butte High coaches have long known his name.
“Basically, right now we have seven varsity guys looking to get time and seven JV guys looking at getting time,” Powers said.
Kelly, a 5-9 guard, is Butte High’s lone returning starter. Mellott (5-11), Ferguson (6-2) and Ricketts (6-1) also played for the Bulldogs last year.
To say Butte High was hit hard by graduation would be an understatement. The Bulldogs lost 40.3 points form their 46.2 points per game they averaged in their 21 games in 2016-17.
Powers, who is entering his third year at the helm of the Bulldogs, said his team is going to be the shortest team in the Class AA. He also said the same team is going to lead the state in 3-point attempts. Easily.
Last year, the Bulldogs got off 315 attempts from 3-point land. This year, Powers said that number could be more like 450.
“We’re going to let them fly,” the coach said. “When they’re going in, we’re going to keep on shooting. When they’re not going in, we can pull it out and do some things to break down defenses.”
On Friday, Butte High worked on zone offense as well as some presses and a press breaker. The Bulldog players named their two presses after Kate Upton and Marilyn Monroe. Their press breaker is “Marsellus Wallace,” after Ving Rhames’ character on the movie “Pulp Fiction.”
“They’re great kids,” Powers said. “They’re tons of fun, young, smart and willing to learn.”
The strength of the Bulldogs — besides a strong sense of humor and a deep appreciation of classic movies — will be their smarts, Powers said.
“They’re smart kids with really, really high IQs,” Powers said. “They pass the ball extremely well. Our practice today was kind of a rollercoaster, but we’ve actually had great, great practices.
“We have three, four different defenses in already that they’re actually already understanding.”
Friday was Butte High’s fifth practice of the season.
Powers said the Bulldogs are a year away from having its program completely built, meaning the numbers will be strong at every class.
Currently, the roster breakdown is 19 freshmen, 16 sophomores, seven juniors and one senior. Powers said the next few years will bring strong freshmen classes, and the program will be ready to reload every year.
Winning without seniors is next to impossible in the Class AA, Powers has said.
“Next year we’re looking at seven seniors,” Powers said. “All of them can play, all of them like each other. There’s great camaraderie there.
“All of a sudden, we’re just going to look like, ‘Huh, Butte High can play basketball,’” Powers added. “Physically, we’re going to be able to compete, and at the same time I think our IQs and the things we are doing on the offseason are going to help us, too.”
The Bulldogs haven’t made the Class AA State tournament since 2013 when they upset Bozeman in a playoff game. This year, Butte High is guaranteed a tournament.
That’s because the Class AA will hold divisional tournaments for the first time in three decades this season. The Eastern AA Divisional will be held in Butte.
The Bulldogs, who will hold their Purple and White scrimmage Saturday, Dec. 2, open the season Tuesday, Dec. 5 against Helena High at the Civic Center.
That is the first of four pre-Christmas non-conference games for the Bulldogs. It is their only home game in December.
The Bulldogs open Eastern AA play at Great Falls High Jan. 4. Two days later, they host Great Falls Russell.
The Butte High-Butte Central game is Jan. 11. (Complete schedule)
Divisionals begin March 1, and Powers said the Bulldogs will simply be looking for consistent improvement as they get ready to pull off some upsets to advance to the state tournament in Billings.
“We’re talented and skilled,” Powers said. “It’s just whether or not physically right now we’re going to be able to compete because of our youth. We’re going to have to fall in love with improving every day.”