Mandan's best and brightest last winter were underclassmen.
That bodes well for the Mandan boys as they set out to improve on last year's fifth-place finish in the state.
Coach Jason Horner's main building blocks this season will consist of
5-foot-11 Devin Coyle, a second-team all-state pick, and 6-3 Aaron Janz, an all-region selection. Both are seniors.
Coyle swished 70 3-pointers last season while averaging 18.2 points,
4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Janz averaged 9.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and led the team with 30 steals.
And there's more. Erron Collins, a
5-10 guard, and Seth Westby, a 6-2 forward, return to the starting lineup, as well. Collins, a junior, averaged
10.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and
2.7 assists. Westby, a senior, averaged 5.9 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Other veteran players include
6-2 senior Jake Watson and 6-3 senior Phaden Marcellais. Watson averaged 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench, and Marcellais averaged
1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds as a reserve.
Horner envisions enhanced roles for Watson and Marcellais.
"Marcellais is a strong kid who can shoot the ball and can run. He'll definitely be competing for a starting spot," Horner said. "... We basically have four and one-half starters back because Watson was playing half the game (at post). He had 18 rebounds in a game at Dickinson."
Senior guard Trey Fitzsimmons averaged 2.6 points as a role player last season. "He's a good 3-point shooter," Horner said. "He and Jake were the first two players off the bench by the end of last year."
Casey Kautzman, a 6-3 senior who appeared briefly in 16 games last winter, also returns.
Before the Braves play their opener at Jamestown on Friday, Horner can count on a good deal of depth.
"I think we'll have a solid seven or eight, for sure, and we have other players who can fill roles," he said. "So everyone has to be ready."
Horner said the common denominator for his players is athleticism. Coyle, Janz, Westby, Watson, Fitzsimmons and Marcellais were key components on the Braves football team that came extremely close to making it to the state championship game.
"They all bring something valuable to the team. ... I really like their athleticism. We're hoping that translates to defensive stops, offensive and defensive rebounds and easy scores."
Neither Marcellais nor Watson, both football linemen, is a drag on the team's speed, according to Horner.
"Marcellais is deceptively quick, and I think Jake has one percent body fat. He can get up and down the floor, too," the coach said.
Horner wants to make use of the Braves' speed and quickness on both ends of the floor.
"We'll have to do something defensively to create problems for teams ... and get some easy points off turnovers," Horner said. "And make or miss we'll have to push the ball (on offense)."
One way or another, Horner said the Braves must find a way to improve on last year's lack of shooting accuracy. "We shot 35 percent and lost five games by two possessions or less," he said.
Mandan is ranked first in the West Region and state by the Hoopster, the annual preseason basketball book. Horner downplays that prediction.
"We have a lot of potential on our team, but I think you can say that about seven of the teams in the WDA," Horner said. "All you have to do (to get to state) is get two wins at the right time."
With many veteran players, Horner is hoping his team doesn't have to start from square one this season.
"Hopefully, the lessons learned last year carry forward to this year, namely attitude, effort, execution and preparation," Horner said.
Horner hopes Mandan's 9-2 football season helps in that process.
"I think having the success in football will carry over to this year," he said. "And I really liked what I saw on the football field. Hopefully, being so close (to the football finals) will make them even more hungry for the basketball season. From that we hope they develop a sense of urgency and sustain it."
Unfortunately for the basketball team, the outstanding football season came at a cost.
Coyle suffered a dislocated collarbone late in the season. He returned to action, but Horner said the multi-sport standout isn't yet back to normal.
"Devin ... isn't quite there yet. You can tell it still bothers him to do certain things," Horner said.
Likewise, Janz is limited by a knee injury he suffered in the playoffs.
"Janz has fluid buildup on one knee," Horner said.
Both are practicing, but Horner doesn't expect them to be at the top of their game for Friday's opener at Jamestown.
Horner said the Jamestown game and Mandan's second outing at Century should provide the Braves with a good idea of what they've got.
Jamestown is picked fourth in the West Region and Century is the defending state champion.