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Butte Central's Dylan Sestrich (13) drives past Frenchtown's Adam Botkin (12) during the semifinals of the Western Class A Divisional tournament last season.

BUTTE — The Butte Central boys basketball team is in the middle of a 2-on-1 transition drill, split into two teams.

The idea is for two offensive players to push the ball down the court, defended by one other player. A second defender arrives late to provide help, but the offense is supposed to get a shot off before this happens.

Watch the drill for a few moments and something becomes obvious — no matter how they’re split up into different teams, this is a group that truly is one unit. Behind the back passes, nifty little gives and creative layups are common.

They’re not quite reading each other’s thoughts, but they are anticipating each other’s movements. And for a veteran team with a Class A state tournament run in mind, that’s good news.

“You’re putting them in a position where they can anticipate better,” Maroons’ head coach Brodie Kelly said. “When you can play without having to think so much, it just kind of gives you much more freedom to let loose and make plays.”

This was something the Maroons were still learning to do last year. This is a group that has played together for a long time, but a season ago the roster was full of sophomores trying to figure out what exactly was expected of them.

It’s a different story now.

“We’ve got about as much experience as you can ask for,” Kelly said. “I think last year we have a good year, but the way the season finished, I think it left guys pretty hungry to get better this offseason.”

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Butte Central's Aaron Richards rises up to block a shot from Dillon's Cole Truman during a Maroon win last season.

Making the leap

Aaron Richards is one of those now-juniors that was trying to figure out everything that was expected of him last year. It wasn’t his first year of varsity and he had a solid season statistically, averaging 7.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Still, he knew there was still work to be done.

Also a member of the football team, Richards bulked up in the offseason and spent a lot of time watching film.

One game in particular stands out to him. It’s a Western A basketball tournament consolation game against Browning and, for much of the day, Richards was matched up with Brandon Amisback.

Both big men played well as Amisback and Richards each finished with 16 points. The Browning senior did have the edge in rebounds, however, hauling in 13.

Throughout the offseason, Kelly has told Richards to try and emulate much of what made Aimsback such a good player — namely his toughness, tenacity, and strength under the basket.

“He was a load,” Richards said of Amisback. “Coach [Kelly] has been talking to me about in the offseason about trying to be like him. To crash and get those offensive rebounds.”

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Browning's Brandon Aimsback goes up for a shot attempt while being pressured by Butte Central's Cade Holter during the first half of the Western A boy's consolation game last season.

Holter’s last hurrah

Cade Holter has seen his share of Butte Central basketball. On varsity for what is now his fourth season, the senior is perhaps the most experienced player on the team.

Also playing quarterback for the Maroons football team, his leadership qualities are innate. Long a solid defender, Holter added a bit more offense to his game last season. He averaged 7.3 points per game and even attempted to take his game beyond the arc — an area Kelly said the Maroons need to improve on.

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Butte Central's Cade Holter (34) lays up a shot as Corvallis' Ridge Albright (right) defends during a Southwest A game last season.

Holter and fellow senior Dylan Sestrich will likely start to begin the season as they did last year, helping provide a steady veteran presence.

It will be needed and they’re well-aware of what they’ll need to do.

“I’ve got a good feel for the game I think,” Holter said. “This is my fourth year playing, you kind of start to pick a lot of things up, learn a lot about opposing players. Start to kind of learn how to work as a team.”

Other players to watch for

One of the best passers and shooters on the squad is Luke Heaphy, who has continued to improve following his breakout sophomore season.

An excellent spot-up scorer, the Maroons will need him to score even more than the 29 three-pointers he made last season.

“He’s been working hard all season,” Holter said of Heaphy. “Lot of props to him. He’s not a guy that plays football or does anything in spring, but he’s always putting in work for basketball. He’s in the weight room, he’s on the court, he’s doing great things for us.”

Gator Yelenich and Trevor Neumann also provided some depth late in the year last season and Kelly said they’ve continued to improve. Neumann, the head coach said, has also been shooting the ball well.

Junior twins Jared and Matt Simkins will also contribute, though the latter is currently injured. Jared will likely see heavy minutes this season and could potentially start.

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Jordan Hansen covers prep and Frontier Conference sports for the Montana Standard. Shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com or give him a shout on Twitter @jordyhansen.

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