For 40 minutes in the middle of June, high school basketball season was back.
Granted, there wasn’t a usual decent-sized crowd, a scorekeeper, referees or the inevitable weather delays north Idahoans are all-too-accustomed to, but Sandpoint’s scrimmage against Bonners Ferry on Tuesday will have to do for now.
Although it was merely a scrimmage with a rolling clock, squint at the preseason rust and glimpses of what these programs (or their JV teams) might look like begin to take shape.
Here are a few takeaways from Sandpoint’s scrimmage against Bonners Ferry.
The Bulldogs are off to a fast start
Sandpoint head coach Wade Engelson made his intentions quite clear early in the scrimmage: Push the pace.
If all goes according to plan, the 2019-20 Bulldogs won’t be inclined to walk the ball up court, run plays against a set defense and grind out opponents with a slower style. With a plethora of guards on the roster, the Engelson plans on speeding up the Bulldogs in year two of his tenure.
“We have the personnel to push the pace,” Engelson said. “We have a number of good athletes currently in the program or coming into the program. We want to use their athleticism.”
That frenetic pace was on display from the get-go. Sporting a four — or sometimes five — guard lineup, the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and didn’t look back. A 1-2-2 full-court press made a couple appearances, which especially favored senior guard Kobe Banks, who led Sandpoint with six steals.
The decision to speed up the game is mathematically based as well. The ever-analytical Engelson will favor an up-tempo style because playing at a faster pace allows for more possessions.
Not only that, he understands that playing quicker is an easier sell for the program in the long term.
“If you’re a player, you want to run up and down the court, attack the rim and dish it,” Engelson said. “If we can attack the basket often, then we’ll get better looks.”
The Badgers will be a bit younger in 2019
With four seniors — including three all-league selections — graduating, Bonners Ferry head coach Andy Rice has quite a formidable rebuild ahead of him.
“We’re going to have a lot of young kids stepping up for us,” Rice said. “This was our first scrimmage this year, so there were a lot of mental mistakes, but it’s getting us on the same page. Hopefully by the end of the summer, we’ll get some stuff worked out and see what happens by the time the season rolls around.”
Fighting commitments from fall sports, summer employment opportunities and several of their varsity members out of town at Brigham Young University’s basketball camp, the eight-man rotation the Badgers brought to Sandpoint looked a little over-eager to run with Sandpoint’s more experienced guards. The Bulldogs’ press flummoxed the freshman-heavy group, who months removed from playing sixth and seventh graders, had to face a Sandpoint back-court that is nearly old enough to vote.
In their defense: It was their first semi-organized summer game of the season. And it’s not like the Badgers’ cupboard is empty.
The Badgers have the luxury of building around Ty Bateman, who was a mid-season injury away from being a fourth Badger on the Intermountain League’s all-conference team. Now healthy — but prepping for football — Bateman showed no significant signs of rust.
“[Ty] and his dad have been in the gym working on a lot of one-on-one stuff,” Rice said. “It was definitely unfortunate last year, but we’re hoping he’s going to be a big contributor for us this season.”
Aside from Bateman, Bonners Ferry will return point-guard hopeful Hayden Stockton, bruising forward Matt Morgan and Jake Jelinek — the latter of whom injured his hand shortly after tryouts last fall.
Get used to seeing Jacob Eldridge...
During the Whitworth camp, incoming freshman Jacob Eldridge had a proposition for Engelson.
He wants to play every varsity and JV game this season.
“At the camp he said ‘Coach, I can play varsity,’” Engelson said, recalling the scene. “I told him, ‘But you’re playing JV.’ And he said ‘I’m good.’ So he’s getting a lot of time in this summer.”
Regardless of where Eldridge ends up this winter, he’ll earn his keep as an aggressive player on both ends of the floor.
In Tuesday’s scrimmage, Eldridge flashed varsity-level rebounding, instincts and tenacity on defense. Playing as a small-ball forward in Sandpoint’s guard-heavy lineup, Eldridge quickly grabbed three defensive rebounds in the Badgers’ first four possessions.
When all was said and done, Eldridge grabbed six boards through the first half and ended with eight.
“Jacob plays ferocious,” Engelson said. “He goes after the ball like it’s a ball of cheese and he hasn’t eaten for two weeks. When you watch him, he plays on the defensive end four inches taller than his actual size.”
...and Braeden Blackmore too
But of all the players to suit up for the scrimmage, none made a flashy entrance quite like Braeden Blackmore.
The incoming freshman scored six of Bonners Ferry’s first eight points — including two off a steal and an emphatic dunk — and ended up matching Hayden Stockton for a team-high 11 points.
Blackmore stuffed the stat sheet with five rebounds, a pair of assists, four steals and a block. For a team seeking fresh faces like the Badgers, Blackmore might be the answer.
Darren Bailey could be due for a big season
Yet for all the young players on display during the scrimmage, rising junior Darren Bailey stole the show with a game-high 18 points.
In Engelson’s eyes, the sharpshooting junior has made considerable strides in the early summer so far.
“He’s a really good defender and he plays fast,” Engelson said. “He’s just gotten better and better throughout the summer.”
In what was arguably Sandpoint’s best sequence of the afternoon, upperclassman and varsity returner Kobe Banks picked off an errant pass on one end of the floor, changed gears with a couple of crossovers at the wing, drove and kicked out to a wide-open Bailey in the corner for a corner three.
After missing his first pair of threes, Bailey found his rhythm in pick-and-roll sets on the wings. He ended the afternoon shooting 4-6 from distance.
Should Bailey continue being a perimeter threat, the Bulldogs will have a formidable back-court this winter.
Bonners Ferry 16 11 — 37
Sandpoint 29 26 — 55
BONNERS FERRY — Blackmore 11, Stockton 11, Morgan 5, Bateman 6, Peterson 4, Rice 0, Jelinek 0, Williams 0.
SANDPOINT — Banks 8, Bailey 18, Eldridge 9, Pettit 7, A. VanDenBerg 2, Parsley 2, Dickinson 2, Lane 5, Ackerman 0, Engelson 0, McCorkle 0, Owens 0, Roos 2.