On any given night last year, five of the six 4A Southern Idaho Conference boys basketball teams could claim they were the class of the conference.
Kuna won the regular-season title. Middleton claimed the district championship. And Bishop Kelly finished as the state runner-up as everyone but Caldwell finished .500 or better in the conference standings.
That won’t be the case this year, if preseason predictions are to be believed.
Bishop Kelly was the unanimous No. 1 pick in a coaches’ poll. But Kuna and Middleton remain threats, Mountain Home has turned its program around and no one should overlook Caldwell.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jake Johnson, sr., G/F, Kuna
Johnson, center, returns for his fourth year as a varsity starter and as the reigning 4A SIC Player of the Year after averaging 13.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists last season. The 6-foot-6, second-team all-Idaho pick has the size and strength to dominate the paint. But he also possess the rare combination of skills that allow him to step out and knock down shots from long range, making him a mismatch all over the court. “He was a handful as a sophomore and junior. I can’t believe he still goes to high school,” Bishop Kelly coach Ryan Kerns said. “(He’s) a good shooter and learned to lead a team last year.”
BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS
Coach: Ryan Kerns, second season
Last year: 16-12, 7-3 4A SIC
Returning starters: Mike Martinez, sr., G; Dan Sabala, jr., G
Breakdown: The Knights return five players who saw significant playing time last season — including Sabala, a second-team all-conference pick — on a team that won 13 of its last 17 to reach the state championship. Kerns said the Knights will rely on their guard-heavy rotation again, making rebounding a concern. But he said this group could be even more athletic than last year’s state runner-up, which will allow Bishop Kelly to keep its defensive pressure high.
Coach: Trent Harrison, first season
Last year: 5-18, 0-10 4A SIC
Returning starters: Forrest Smith, sr., G; Austin Van Horne, sr., G
Breakdown: The Cougars return a strong backcourt with Van Horne, a second-team all-conference pick, and Smith. And Caldwell received a boost this summer when 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior point guard George Tarlas moved in from Greece. “We have some shooters that can stretch the floor and some length and athleticism that can finish around and at the rim,” said Harrison, Caldwell’s JV coach the past two years.
Coach: Joe Kleffner, second season
Last year: 12-10, 7-2 4A SIC
Returning starters: Jake Johnson, sr., F; Kyler Ray, sr., PG
Breakdown: The defending regular-season champ will pose matchup problems throughout the conference with a front court featuring the 6-6 Johnson, the 6-3 Kyler Ray and the 6-3 Kyle Keenan in the Kavemen’s motion offense. That length will also come in handy on defense, forcing opponents to shoot from outside. “We’re just trying to make sure we get the ball inside,” Kleffner said. “We’ll try to push it a little bit, but we’ll probably be more of a halfcourt offense.”
Coach: Dale Karst, third season
Last year: 16-10, 5-5 4A SIC
Returning starters: David Kofoed, jr., G; Chase Downs, jr., W
Breakdown: The reigning district champ lost most of its scoring output from a squad that ended a six-year state tournament drought. But Middleton still has the horses to compete for a state tournament bid with Kofoed (7.5 ppg), Downs (5.5 ppg) and more size and strength in the paint than in recent years. “It should give us another look that wasn’t our strength last year,” Karst said of his team’s size.
MOUNTAIN HOME TIGERS
Coach: Brion Bethel, fourth season
Last year: 19-8, 6-4 4A SIC
Returning starters: Jymon Garretson, sr., G; Jermaine Smith, sr., G; Garrett McKenzie, sr., W; AJ Woodruff, jr., G
Breakdown: After winning its first state tournament trophy (third place) since 1980, Mountain Home must replace first-team All-Idaho center Jarek Schetzle (13.7 ppg, 12.5 rebounds, 4 blocks). Replacing his size and presence is tough. But the Tigers get a boost with the return of Woodruff from injury. Woodruff scored 14 ppg as a sophomore and can pair with Garretson, a first-team all-conference guard, to form a formidable backcourt.
Coach: Aaron Sanders, seventh season
Last year: 13-11, 5-5 4A SIC
Returning starters: Justice Cook, sr., G; Jacob Hibbard, sr., P
Breakdown: The perennial power missed state last season for the first time since 2004. And the Hawks take on a rare rebuilding project with 10 players who have yet to play any minutes at the varsity level. Inconsistency will be an issue early, but Sanders thinks the group can round into shape by the district tournament. “I think our work ethic is better, we are deeper and we have the potential to be more explosive,” Sanders said.
Preseason coaches’ poll
Team (1st-place votes)
1. Bishop Kelly (6)
5. Mountain Home