Mark Harkins is happy with his roster, and he should be. The Glacier High School boys basketball team has seven talented seniors and a deep bench, anchored by a core of experienced juniors and one athletic sophomore. But two names particularly stand out to Harkins, and anybody else who follows high school basketball for that matter: Shay Smithwick-Hann and Ben Cutler.
Smithwick-Hann, a junior forward, was selected second-team all-state last year and Cutler, a senior guard, was honored with a first-team selection. Harkins is savoring the moment, aware of how rare it is to begin a season with two all-staters in your starting lineup.
“I don’t know if I will ever (have this) again,” Harkins, in his second year of coaching Glacier, said.
The Wolfpack finished 3-18 last year, not a surprising record considering the school hadn’t even existed the year before. But Harkins points to the many close games last year: a handful of heartbreaking losses by five or fewer points and a number of instances where the Wolfpack let leads slip away in the second half. Harkins expects many of those close contests to go the other way this year. The Wolfpack kicked off the season with a 66-51 loss to C.M. Russell on Dec. 6.
Though the roster is nearly identical to last year’s, this squad is a far different team, Harkins said. To begin with, they’re much stronger. For example, Smithwick-Hann, who is 6 feet 4 and 205 pounds, bench-presses 260 pounds. Harkins estimates that’s at least 40 pounds more than during last season.
“With that strength comes confidence,” Harkins said. “They have a little swagger. What a difference a year makes.”
Experience also helps immensely in building confidence. Last year, with no seniors and a new team, no one could blame the Wolfpack for coming out tentative at times. But with a full season under their belts, the Wolfpack now know where they stack up against the rest of the competition. If they rebound and play consistent defense, their two Achilles heels last year, they can hang with about anybody in Class AA. Scoring has never been much of a problem for the high-powered offense.
Smithwick-Hann, one of the best quarterbacks in the state on the football field, anchors the middle for the Wolfpack, but he is as comfortable at the three-point line as he is on the low blocks. That’s what makes him incredibly hard to defend. Put a quicker small guy on him and Smithwick-Hann will post up. Send a big guy at him and Smithwick-Hann will put the ball on the floor. Last year he averaged 14.6 points per game and finished among the league leaders in rebounds at 7.5.
Cutler is coming off a remarkable junior season where he averaged 18.7 points and led the state in three-point field goals made. Like Smithwick-Hann, Cutler’s versatility gives opposing coaches headaches. When he gets the ball around the three-point line, a defender who approaches him too fast is likely to get burned by his quick first step. If you don’t close out fast enough, Cutler is as good as any outside shooter in the state. His range extends well beyond the arc.
“Offensively, he’s very, very good,” Harkins said of Cutler.
Ben Sansaver and Connor Fuller have been competing for the starting point guard position in practice. Harkins said he can’t go wrong either way. Both will get substantial playing time, no matter who starts, and both are fully capable of guiding the offense. Harkins said Sansaver worked hard in the off-season to elevate his game.
Colter Hanson is the lone sophomore on the varsity roster. Harkins said Hanson, who was the junior varsity quarterback in the fall, is a solid all-around athlete. At 6 feet 3 inches, Hanson will play forward and split his time between varsity and junior varsity.
Harkins said he expects reliable team chemistry because the players “like each other.” Such off-the-court intangibles, though they sound somewhat obvious, are instrumental in raising a team from mediocre to a contender. That chemistry will be put on display in the Wolfpack’s run-and-gun offense, where players have to be on the same wavelength at all times to avoid turnovers. Expect the Wolfpack to put plenty of points on the board this year.
“We’re going to try to go as fast as we can,” Harkins said.
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