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Back with a purpose: Offseason slate has tempered Star Valley cagers

By Dahl Erickson
SVI Media

Will Johnson gathers himself for a power move against the Rawlins Outlaws last season. (Photo by Aaron C. Jenkins)

After a third straight season of missing out on the Wyoming state basketball tournament, it wouldn’t be inappropriate for people to think that making it back to Casper combined with the move to the 4A class would be the ideal goal for the Braves program. But the team is looking for that and more as a strong core returns after a very strenuous off-season.

“The transition for us is obviously there but I don’t think that’s on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds,” said second-year head coach Paul Kabonic. “We don’t know much about the East but we’re not too worried about the East because we’re trying to take care of the West.”

The Braves enter into the 4A fray where the top pick in the Western Conference appears to be the Kelly Walsh Trojans but the rest of the league looks to be wide-open.

“Our younger teams played these West teams the last couple of years and we’re confident,” Kabonic said. “It’s a good year to go 4A with some teams rebuilding so the West with the exception of Kelly Walsh is wide-open. They will be five seniors deep. Making a run at the West and getting to state is our goal and we had a good summer. We’re confident against those big schools. We didn’t play a small school all summer.”

Tanner Thompson makes a drive to the basket against the Cody Broncs last season. (Photo by Aaron C. Jenkins)

When listening to the list of teams the Braves beat during summer play, it’s easy to be impressed. Ogden, Bonneville, Hillcrest, Roy and even Desert Oasis out of Las Vegas.

“I think we caught them on a good day,” Kabonic admits about Oasis. But the team also played Box Elder to overtime and lost to Lehi by just two points.”

In other words, playing Wyoming’s biggest schools on a regular basis will not be intimidating. Kabonic credits the work of a large group of talented juniors but says that wouldn’t be possible without a very unselfish group of seniors.

“One thing about this year’s senior group is that they are aware that they need the juniors,” he added. “They are the most unselfish group of seniors I’ve ever seen. The best thing about them is that they are willing to do what’s best for the program.”

Kabonic, an assistant for the Braves football team, pointed out that selfless attitude was a big reason for success on the gridiron.

Dean Shaw scores against the Jackson Broncs last season. Shaw will be one of the key juniors expected to make big contributions to the team this season. (Photo by Aaron C. Jenkins)

“Tanner Thompson is a great example,” he said. “He plays [the jet] and does a great job when Wyatt gets hurt, then he steps aside and plays defense. They are great guys and they are not worried about starting minutes.”

The other thing that stands out from the summer play is the staggering number of contests the team played. In all, Kabonic said the program played 32 games at summer tournaments in Evanston, Preston, Ririe and the Utah Valley University tourney. The staff believes that it was a necessary effort to maximize the potential of team and prepare for the move in classifications.

“We had a similar schedule at Desert Hills” Kabonic said of his previous coaching stint in St. George, Utah. “Generally the problem with us is that we are going up against a Cheyenne group with 60-70 AAU games. I just wanted to get these guys in front of some big schools. I felt like that’s the thing we needed to do. I don’t want the size or the strength of the Wyoming teams to be a factor so we figured if we played against as many big schools as we could then we’d be fine. I just like the way we competed against teams with obvious mismatches.”

Kabonic mentioned that he was pleased with the time that players had spent in the gym and that once the athletes who played football made the switch then the team would be formidable.

“Our football players might need a little time to transition but Taylor [Horsley], Andrew [Jeske] & Mason [Erickson] were in the gym constantly. I don’t know if they missed more than two days in a row. We should be clicking once we get our feet under us after the early tournaments.”

• Tournament play
The Braves open up the season in Riverton with three games in three days from December 6-8. Star Valley will open up with the favored Kelly Walsh Trojans on Thursday, the Riverton Wolverines on Friday and the Cheyenne South Bison on Saturday.
SVI Media will be broadcasting audio only from the Saturday match up with South on December 8.