Monticello boys basketball opens season 1-2

The Monticello High School boys basketball team opened the 2023-24 season with three road games in the past week. The Buckaroos fell to the Grand County Red Devils and Tabiona Tigers before earning their first win of the year over the Merit Prep Knights on December 2.
The Buckaroos had something of a late start after a successful fall sports season that saw approximately half the team contributing to a cross country state championship and the other half contributing to a runner-up finish in football.
After two lopsided losses, the team began to come together against Merit Prep. In Moab December 5 defensive lapses and offensive challenges ultimately resulted in an 88-38 win for the Grand County Red Devils.
Senior Curtis Bunker led Monticello scoring in the loss with 18 points. JD McDonald added seven points, Jackson Keyes scored five, Mason Atwood had four, and Traken Lee and Cache Young each added two.
On December 1, the Buckaroos made the long road trip to Tabiona where the Tigers showed why they’re ranked second in the 1A ranks with a big 64-32 win.
Sophomore Jackson Keyes and freshman Cache Young led Monticello with eight points each. Lee and Atwood each scored five, while McDonald and Bunker each scored three and Kaden Pehrson added two.
Following the loss, driving conditions from Tabiona to the Wasatch Front were treacherous and the Buckaroos didn’t get their motel in Payson until well after midnight.
It was a quick turnaround with an early afternoon game against Merit Prep in Springville. Monticello put together a strong game and came away with a 60-35 win.
Senior leadership was key in the victory. Curtis Bunker led all scorers with 20 points, while JD McDonald added 14 and Mason Atwood scored 13. Lee scored six, Young added four, and Keyes had three points.
Fourth-year Buckaroo Head Coach recently spoke with the San Juan Record via email. Here are his thoughts on the team, the new season, and coaching fluidity:
SJR: You’re coming off a year where you played all four days at the state tournament. Can you tell me how things are shaping up for the team this year?
Josh Keyes: We are looking at a brand new team with very little varsity experience. JD McDonald brings the most varsity experience with Curtis Bunker and Mason Atwood also playing role minutes last season. Kaden Pehrson and Traken Lee will be asked to acclimate quickly to the varsity speed along with sophomores Kooper Nielson, Tommy Morrison, and Jackson Keyes. We are young, but over the course of a four-month season, I am confident these players will find their gate and we’ll find success.
SJR: Do you have any young players who have pleasantly surprised you?
JK: My sophomore class has made great strides since last season. Tommy Morrison has shown a jump in maturity and his name is mentioned every time we discuss the depth chart. Curtis Bunker’s ability to slash and score at the basket will surprise a lot of the fans who come watch us play this year, but we’ve known he is special for a long time.
SJR: In what areas do you think the team will be strong this season?
JK: We will have more depth this year than we have had in recent seasons. At the moment, I have the luxury of playing with nine to ten kids without taking a big hit. We will have the opportunity to develop some young players while they play hand in hand with their senior teammates.
SJR: Where do you need some work?
JK: In order to find success in our region and in the 1A ranks, defense is crucial. We will need to find some rhythm within our team defense and find ways to get defensive stops.
SJR: What do you know about your main opponents at this early stage?
JK: Our region is going to be very competitive this year. Both Pinnacle and Green River bring back a majority of their contributors from a year ago (Green River brought everyone back). We will have to work hard, play well, and catch some breaks along the way to get back to the top of Region 19.
SJR: What are your expectations for the season?
JK: We have the same expectations nearly every year; we want to compete for a region title, make it to the state tournament, and play all four days.  However, our specific team goals will be based around our ability to work hard, improve daily, and grow as a unit.
SJR: As a veteran coach do you continue to learn and grow from season to season? What changes in your coaching style/philosophy have resulted?
JK: I have to grow from season to season because coaching is fluid. Personalities change, parenting styles are evolving, and the general makeup of our players is different than it was in 2003 when I started coaching. Every year there is a level of adaptation that’s required to find success. However, I can always count on a few things from my players from Monticello High School. We don’t always have the most talent, but my players will be tough, respectful, and hardworking. In addition, I know they will represent their team and community well in the classroom where they will continue to grow academically. With that, coaching is teaching, and I hope my style represents that idea. My goal is to see my players improve from game to game, not only as basketball players, but as teammates and individuals. Success can be symbolized with a ring, but continued accomplishments post-high school from former players who learned valuable lessons while playing basketball at Monticello High School are just as indicative of success. As a coach, I have to look at the big picture and remember what we stand for and where the journey will take us.
The immediate journey is taking the Buckaroos to Richfield this weekend for the 1A Utah Boys Basketball Preview. They’ll face Valley at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, December 8 and Tintic Saturday at 9 a.m. Catch both of those games live on Redrock 92 Radio and

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