by Scott Boyle
As the round ball begins to bounce around the state, the Monticello Bucks boys basketball team set off in defense of their 1A State Basketball Championship of last March.
After a 20-4 season and their second ever state basketball title, the Bucks must first replace four senior starters from that team.
Tony Esplin, Buckaroo head boys basketball coach, answered a few questions for Sportshorts.
1. Who is on the team this year?
The members of our varsity team this year are Sheldon Black, Mckade Maloy, Everett Hatch, Jens Brewer, Matt Freestone, Tyler Bird, Eli Johnson, Tobin Esplin, Nolan Freestone, Joe Fellmeth, Andrew Torres, Carson Duncan and Talon Black.
2. You are replacing four seniors. Who is going to step into those slots?
I think the seniors will need to step up and be leaders, but they will have a lot of help from a talented group of juniors. At this point I don’t know who will be the ones that step up and fill some big shoes of those seniors that graduated.
3. Sheldon Black is the only starter back. What do you look for from him this season?
After last years finish at state, Sheldon knows what it takes to compete at a high level, and we will count on him to lead out and set the example for the rest to follow.
I assume that a lot of teams will key a lot on Sheldon to try and slow him down. We will count on Sheldon to make good decisions and get the rest of the team involved in the game.
4. Who will be your starters?
At this point I haven’t completely made up my mind who will be starting. We have had a lot of interruptions in our two weeks of practice.
There are about seven individuals that I think could be in the starting roles. I guess it will be a game day decision.
At this point, I don’t think a starting group is that important because we have a lot of depth and experience from last year.
5. Who will be your bench contributors?
Not everyone played at state last year, but we had several individuals that were doing well towards the end of season. Matt Freestone, Makade Maloy, Everett Hatch, Tyler Bird and Eli Johnson all had some great contributions toward the end of the season.
Jens Brewer is a great defender, and not many will outwork him. Jens is still looking for consistency on offense though.
Joe Fellmeth, Tobin Esplin, Andrew Torres and Carson Duncan all had great showings for our JV last year.
Nolan Freestone was nursing what ended up being a broken wrist the last month of the season, and it will be nice to see what he can do now he is healthy.
Talon Black is very athletic and is figuring out how to compete with the quicker pace of the varsity level.
6. Last year’s JV was a 3-point makin’ machine. How do you make use of all those sharp shooters this year?
Last years JV had a lot of contributors, and most of them could shoot the 3-ball. It would be nice if that could carry over into this year.
We try to encourage good shot selection inside and outside. We do have a few rules about when and where the 3-ball is ok to shoot because we believe you need both an inside and outside attack.
I believe there needs to be a good balance of twos and threes, as well as being aggressive and drawing fouls and going to the foul line as often as possible.
We will miss the physical play of Tanner Eardley and Austin Maloy from last year, but I think we have several kids capable of eventually filling those positions.
7. Thoughts about defending a 1A state basketball championship?
My thoughts about defending the state title are mixed. There are several teams from last year that did not graduate too many seniors if any.
Green River should be one of the top teams where they bring back all but one of last year’s team.
Valley returns almost everyone and are coming off a fall baseball championship with a lot of confidence.
Tabiona has Lee Gines back at the helm with a very talented group of kids.
Last year’s favorite team, the Rich Rebels, lost several kids, but they return a lot of experience, and they are also coming off a fall championship in football with a lot of confidence.
Piute and Panguitch both are very solid teams and are always strong contenders at state and will finish at the top of region 20.
There are several other teams that have the ability to put it together and win it all. We are not the same team as last year, but we have the ability to transform into what would be a very strong team if we learn to share the ball and trust each other both on offense and defense.
I think the team this year has a lot of, and probably more, talent than last year. They just have got to figure out how to play as a team.
Last year’s team played together better than any team I have coached. They were very unselfish, and different individuals would rise to the occasion on different nights.
This year’s team has more individuals who have that capability. We have a tough schedule this year. We hope to have an exciting and up tempo game and look to be very competitive.
The Bucks opened their season on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in a Hall of Fame match-up against last year’s 2A state runner-up, the Enterprise Wolves.
UIAAA organizes the games, which pits high-ranking teams from last season in different classifications against each other. The games raise funds for scholarships for student/athletes.
And the Bucks started the season off with a bang, outlasting the Wolves in a tight game, 61-60, at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.
Monticello lead throughout the game, only trailing once early in the first quarter but couldn’t put the Wolves away, who stayed in the game virtue of their three point barrage.
Nine different Wolves found the net from three-point land, connecting on thirteen in all.
Monticello countered with the inside play of junior Matt Freestone, the guard scoring of Sheldon Black and Tyler Bird, and stellar free throw shooting to keep the lead and even forging an 11 point lead in the second quarter.
But the Wolves kept coming back with the three pointers. Freestone finished the night with 20 points, including four for four at the FT line.
Sheldon Black had 17 points and was 7-7 at the foul line, while Bird also hit double figures with 11 points and five of six at the line.
Tobin Esplin and Joe Fellmeth came off the bench to hit big threes for the Bucks, helping to stave off the hot Enterprise shooters.
Makade Maloy also added six points and Carson Duncan dropped in two points in the big Buckaroo win.
Next up for the Buckaroos are the Grand County Red Devils, who invade the Buckaroo corral on Thursday, December 4.