Billings fielded a young team last year on its way to a 12-15 record. The young Wildcats showed their potential at the end of the season by giving eventual Class 2 runner-up Crane all it wanted in the district semifinal before falling 55-52.
Four double-digit scorers return this year with a wealth of experience gained from last season’s campaign.
“I thought our younger kids took some positive strides over the summer,” Billings head coach Kendall Tilley said. “The year of varsity ball helped their confidence.”
Senior Luke Johnson led the scoring attack as a junior with 16.5 points per game. He also led the team in steals per game at three while chipping in three rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest.
He will be looked at for leadership this season.
“He (Johnson) is a leader by the way he plays every day,” Tilley said. “He pushes everyone to raise their game. He should have a huge year. He has improved his ball handling and his mid-range game.”
Fellow senior Jacob Smith and sophomores Tyler Essick and Bobby Brown all averaged in double figures scoring last season and return. Smith scored 11.6 points per game and added 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Essick was the team’s leading rebounder at 7.4 rebounds per game in addition to his 11.3 points per game. Brown poured in 10.5 points per game, and he was also the team’s leading 3-point shooter by knocking down 56 from outside the arc.
“I have seen improvement in all three of these players,” Tilley said. “I think they know we have the ability to be a strong team and they want to raise their level of play.”
Junior Duncan Harter and sophomore Braden Ray along with a strong group of freshmen will help fill out the rotation. Tilley expects that two or three freshmen could see playing time this year.
Tilley hopes his team’s strong finish to last year translates to a fast start this year.
“My expectations are to carry over how we finished late last season. We beat Blue Eye in Districts and had every opportunity to knock of Crane in the semis. With the experience coming back, I hope with come out of the gates early playing at a high level and exceed any expectations,” Tilley said.
Billings opens the season on Nov. 21 at Chadwick.