Strong once again. That would be the easy assessment of the 2011-12 version of the Lovell Bulldogs as they take the court this weekend for the Big Horn Basin Shootout in South Big Horn County to begin the new season.
The Bulldogs graduated five players, including four inside players, but they return six seniors and four juniors among the 31 members of the squad.
Gone from last year’s 24-3 team that placed third at State are Jeff Lewis, now playing at Northwest College, Tyrel Harrison, Aaron Clark, Jared Minchow and Jake Wakelin. They are also starting the season without the services of senior guard Steven Pickett, who suffered a severe lower leg injury midway through the football season at Greybull.
“We’re going to take it nice and easy with Steven and do whatever we need to do to help him,” coach Brian May said. “He’s supposed to get the screws out of his leg later this week and should start to put some weight on it after that.”
Fall team success, including the state football title, should help the basketball team as the season gets under way, May said.
“It’s been great. The fall sports have helped us as far as attitude goes. Winning helps,” May said. “I decided to give the football players two days off after the season ended, but they only took one day and jumped right into practice.
“Practice is going well. It helps when you have a veteran group that knows things like drills and what we expect offensively and defensively. They know our philosophy and can become teachers for the younger kids.”
Here’s a look at the Bulldogs position by position:
Point guard – Senior Colin May (5-9) returns at the point this season and is in his third season as the starter. He’s just getting up to full speed, the coach said, after getting his tonsils out following the cross country season.
May was third on the team in scoring last season at 11.9 points per game, and he was the team’s leading three-point shooter. He also led the team in steals.
“We’ve seen his maturation as far as learning when to pull the ball out, set things up and calm things down,” Coach May said. “His quickness has improved, as has his ability to penetrate and pull up for mid-range jump shots. He sees the floor well.”
Two guard – Dylan Hultgren (5-11) steps in at the two while Pickett heals. May said the junior has improved his shooting and quickness.
“He’s always been a good passer and handles the ball well,” May said. “He handles pressure and is becoming a good defender. He will also play the one (point guard) at times.”
Pickett (5-10) will work in at the one and two when he returns and is a top defender who moves his feet well and uses his hands well on defense, May said, getting his hands in the passing lanes for steals. He also sees the floor well, does a great job off the ball cutting to the basket and is a strong rebounder for guard, the coach added.
Also seeing lots of time in the backcourt will be senior Hunter Hinckley (5-8), who is very quick and a good defender, May said. Hinckley’s jump shot is improving, the coach said, and he is a “feisty kid who will try to do everything you tell him to do.
“He runs the floor well and is a great team defender, recognizing when to help and when to stay put. He gets after loose balls,” May noted.
Three position (wing) – Seniors Collin McArthur (5-11) and McKayan May (6-1) are vying for the starting job at the three position, Coach May said. McArthur is a “great defender,” May said, who competes well and is tenacious.
“Collin uses his hands well defensively,” he added. “He’s great in the team concept helping his teammates. He’ll need to help us rebound and offensively will hit some shots for us.”
McArthur will also see time at the two.
McKayan May can play the two, three or four positions, Coach May said, as a tall and lanky but also quick player.
“We do like his length,” the coach said. “He runs the floor extremely well and uses both of his hands around the basket. He’s a fairly decent post-up player and can finish. He’s a good rebounder and can knock down outside shots, too.”
Four (wing) — Working at the four is senior Morgan Baxendale (6-3), who is athletic, a good jumper and brings a lot of energy, May said. He’s also a good rebounder who can finish around the basket.
“Morgan has worked on his perimeter shooting and can cause problems defensively for an opponent because of his length and athleticism,” May said. “He can run the floor extremely well.”
Playing the three, four or five will be junior Ryan Clark (6-2), who May called “a sneaky, smart ballplayer who knows how to get open around the basket and can finish.” Clark handles the ball well and is a good rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the court, May added.
Post — Returning at center is junior Cody Savage (6-6), who was second on the team in scoring last year at 14 points per game. He also led the team in blocks and field goal percentage at 57 percent, tied with Lewis in the latter category.
“Cody’s strength has improved. He’s a strong kid,” May said. “He really knows how to post up and use his body. He does a great job sealing his man and can drop step left or right. He’s excellent in the open court, especially in transition offensively.
“He can shoot left and right jump hooks and the up-and-under, and he can face and knock down jump shots. He’s working on his range as far as his shot goes, and he’s physical offensively and defensively.”
Also expected to see varsity action, May said, are 6-3 junior Austin Ellis, 6-3 sophomore Brandon Wolvington, 5-10 sophomore Calin McArthur and 5-9 sophomore Jacob Adey.
RJ May returns as the junior varsity coach, and Bob Weber replaces Craig Lundberg as freshman coach. Lundberg is now teaching in Burlington.
Shootout this weekend
The Bulldogs will open the season at the annual Big Horn Basin Shootout in South Big Horn County. They open the season against Kemmerer Friday at 2:15 p.m. at the Riverside High School Gym in Basin, then on Saturday will face Wind River at 12:30 p.m. at Greybull High School and Burlington at 7 p.m. at Burlington High School.
The JVs will play Big Piney Saturday at 10:45 a.m. at the old Greybull gym, then take on Burlington at 4 p.m. at the old Burlington gym.
By David Peck