ST. GEORGE — The Tigers are not expected by many to place particularly highly in either boys or girls basketball. They are both in rebuilding stages, to an extent. But both coaches have faith in their teams to surpass the expectations that were laid out for them.
Here are the outlooks for Hurricane basketball in Region 9 play.
A Hurricane program that graduated six seniors has some holes to fill and enters a rebuilding stage. The Tigers, who were already on the outside looking in last year, will rely on athleticism and speed more than specific basketball skill to try to steal some games in a crowded Region 9.
A new group of seniors composes coach Todd Langston’s core, spearheaded leadership wise by Bubba Moore and Luke Wright. The two are also the team’s primary ball movers. But the lineup beyond them is fluid and Langston promised to make changes to try to find something that works.
So far, not much has worked. The team is using a high-level of quickness to find chances, but every game has been going a similar way: The Tigers were in it and got their looks, but they simply didn’t make enough baskets to be competitive. As a unit, Hurricane shot 36% from the field and 28% on 3-pointers in the preseason.
When they start to figure that out, Langston thinks the team will be well on its way.
“We get good looks, we just miss them,” Langston said. “Hopefully we can get better offensively, shooting the ball. If we can do that, all those things build on themselves, whether it’s good offense to good defense and vice versa. We just have to keep working. Right now, defensively, our rotations are slow and we don’t get low on shooters.”
Moore and Wright can move the ball. They are both football players at speed positions — wide receiver and cornerback for the former, running back and safety for Wright. Fellow senior Jack Reeve is also a wide receiver and has maybe had the most success translating his game to the court. Reeve is the only Tiger averaging more than 10 points a game. Moore is landing 43% of his field attempts and Reeve is landing 40%, but the secondary scoring falls off quickly.
Jack Leavenworth has been fairly successful from beyond the arc, landing 18 of his 48 attempts as the team’s primary deep ball shooter. The problem is he’s also at 33% on the inside as well.
The Tigers struggled to a 1-7 in the preseason, but it’s not reasonable to expect that to be their ceiling. Hurricane didn’t have the benefit of playing summer ball, while other teams meshed over the course of dozens of games.
“If I ever had a group that needed to spend a summer together playing 70 games, this is the group,” Langston said.
Secondary help may be developing. Langston highlighted a junior that he thinks will make strides and be a productive player for the Tigers down the stretch.
“I really like the progress of Nathan Parker,” Langston said. “He hasn’t shot really well but has a lot of upside. He’s going to help us going forward. He’ll get more and more time. Mainly he’s a good shooter and he’s a good rebounder.”
Hurricane will not challenge for the region title. They’re a smaller, less basketball-articulate group than a fair share of teams in 9.
But they are fast. They are athletes. They can move the ball. They’ve got hot a few times, and just missed a buzzer-beating shot against Stansbury on Wednesday that would’ve sent them to overtime against a strong fellow 4A club in their last preseason game. With a couple of full months of basketball practice behind them, expect shooting percentages to go up. Then, who knows.
“We can be good this year,” I still feel like we can mesh and still be competitive. Nobody in the region is expecting much from us so hopefully, we can surprise a few of them.”
Hurricane gets a tough early test, hosting defending state champion Dixie on Jan. 6 to open Region 9 play.
First-year head coach Pepper Reddish wants to take steps toward building a sustainable, successful program at Hurricane. She wants to surprise some people with solid play this year, but start giving younger players a chance to compete at the varsity level to be better prepared by the time they’re seniors.
“In my mind, I’m always building toward the future,” Reddish said. “If you’re only focusing on the present, you’ll never have a future. I keep my eyes on the prize with the current girls I have. I know they will get some W’s. I know we’ll take some losses, too. As long as they fight until the end, that’s a win in my book.”
The Tigers have to make up for losing their top two scorers from a season ago to graduation. Kandalyn Hinton averaged 12 points a game and pulled down 5.8 rebounds. Brooke Thomas scored 9.1. But they’re also returning some key pieces.
Lydia Prince averaged more than two assists a game as a junior a year ago. Britin Behrmann has become a primary post player after reeling in four boards a game in her junior campaign. Haley Chesley provided some secondary scoring as a sophomore and has taken to the primary scorer role well in the preseason.
“She’s exciting to watch, for sure,” Reddish said. “Even when her outside game is not on, her inside game is. She can drive. She really put together a good defensive game over the summer and really worked hard at being just as positive on defense as she is on offense.”
Sadie Gilberg will be instrumental on defense from the wing, who Reddish described as “unstoppable” in the backcourt. Madi Staples will play a flex role, normally assuming a guard position with an aggressiveness that will get her a lot of rebounds on both ends.
That aggression is going to be the keynote for the entire team, Reddish said. She said her team will be aggressive and push the envelope with the ball and without.
“Hurricane is a super aggressive team,” Reddish said. “So much that you kind of have to tailor them back and then let them be aggressive and pull them back again because we’re so aggressive that it gets us into foul trouble sometimes. And sometimes we’re fouling and sometimes we’re just so dang aggressive it looks like we’re fouling.”
The Tigers averaged 16.9 fouls a game through the preseason, a number they undershot in their better games, including their two wins and a close loss to Uintah.
It was no coincidence that two of those games came in the final three of the non-region schedule. Just as everyone else, Hurricane has had to put the pieces of the puzzle together over the preseason more, with the two week shutdown in November limited practices before competition started. After taking four losses to start the season, they won two in a row and was within one possession of Grantsville in a tight loss on Wednesday.
As the preseason progressed, their field goal percentage went up. They took fewer fouls.
They aren’t expected to be major players in Region 9 and likely won’t be a player for the top spot when it’s all said and done. But like the boys, they expect to turn some heads. Reddish is looking for momentum forward.
“It’s funny. Everybody counts us out a little more than I count us in,” She said. “That’s OK. I would rather be more positive with my team than not. If we play like we can, I think we can pull off fourth or fifth instead of seventh or eighth like people have us at. I’m up for a challenge and I know my girls are too. I’ve never seen a group of girls that want it so bad.”
The Tigers will start by traveling to Dixie on Tuesday.
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