PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Gabe Hammons, Preston

Senior guard

The pressure was on Gabe Hammons before he even took his first shot this season.

Hammons was the only returning starter from the 2019-2020 Preston team, which won the Indians’ fourth state championship in five years.

That meant it was on Hammons — and a few other players, like fellow seniors Cole Harris and Braden Hess — to drag Preston back into title contention after losing stars like All-Area Player of the Year Ty Hyde and first-teamer Luke Smellie.

And even though the Indians fell just short, losing 47-45 to favored Middleton in a tense, classic state championship game, Hammons more than proved he had what it took to handle the pressure, both off the court and on.

Perhaps the senior guard possessed some sort of internal clock that alerted him to crunch time and ignited a fire within him that burns like the sun. As Preston rolled to a sixth-straight appearance in the 4A state title game, the Indians looked for Hammons in the most important spots.

Guarding the 6-foot-1 sharpshooter was a precarious endeavor at the best of times. Hammons, who averaged 17 points for the season, was a virtuoso in the midrange. It didn’t matter if he was being guarded closely, if the defender could stop him from getting to the spot he wanted — Hammons seemed to have a superpower that only activated when he jumped, allowing him to hang in the air for just a half-second longer than his defender and snap off his picture-perfect shot.

“Hammons, when he got on, there wasn’t stopping him,” Rockland coach Shae Neal said. “He was scoring, he was passing, he was driving, he was the show in those games where he stepped up.”

In big games, when defenses got even more locked-in and easy points all but vanished, Hammons — helped by that nearly-unstoppable pullup jumper — got even better.

Preston’s title defense could have ended as early as the district tournament, but Hammons scored 28 and 23 points in two games against Pocatello to advance out of one of the toughest districts in the state.

At state, where points were definitely at a premium for the Indians — they didn’t score more than 47 points in a game — he led Preston in scoring in all three games.

Thirteen points in a four-point first-round victory over Twin Falls. Thirteen more in a two-point semifinal win over Bishop Kelly. And 13 one final time as the number finally turned unlucky for him in the state title game.

“Any time, any big game, he’s the guy we wanted taking the shot,” Preston coach Tyler Jones said. “Some games, if there was mismatch, we would go to Cole Harris or Braden Hess. But at state, those baskets were hard to come by, and against Twin and B.K., he did a good job to keep us in those games when we had trouble scoring.”

FIRST TEAM

James Bodily, sr. G, North Gem

The lowdown: Bodily was Idaho’s best-kept secret, a player who inspired shock from anyone who heard about him or saw him play. There’s a kid at North Gem who can windmill dunk? And shoot stepback 3s like Kevin Durant? Watching the 6-foot-3 Bodily go against the majority of 1A DII kids was a bit like coming across a great white shark in an office fish tank — awesome, in the truest sense of the word, and more than a little unsettling. Despite sitting in the second half of many a blowout win, he averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1 block per game, making 62% of his field goals and 44% of his 3-pointers — all team highs for a North Gem squad that lost just three games all year and took the consolation championship at the state tournament.

Quotable: ”He’s on another level for our division and probably one of the best basketball players in the state. The all-star games they had there at Poky, James jumped over one of the players and dunked it. I don’t think there’s many other kids that can do that, even in the state. His defense and rebounding and shot blocking — he’s a monster to deal with and just kind of unstoppable.” — Sho-Ban coach Daren Merzlock

Emmett Holt, sr. F, Century

The lowdown: 4A District 5 was one of the toughest districts in the state, with Preston, Pocatello and Century — three state-tournament-caliber teams — duking it out all year long. Holt thrived in that pressure-packed environment. A 6-foot-2 wing who bulked up from stick-thin to merely lanky over the past two years, Holt could score with the best of them. The contortionist magic of his midrange game — getting to his spot, rising and firing a jumper that almost always seemed to find the net — opened up his 3-point shooting and drives to the basket. The senior, who’s signed to Spokane Community College, averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, and usually took on the task of guarding the other team’s best scorer as well.

Quotable: ”Every (college) coach I talked to said, ‘I love how he handles that bump, that first bump.’ Whether it’s him driving and getting that first bump or him in the paint posting up. He’s able to handle contact. He was our leading scorer and could score from anywhere, and he was also responsible for guarding the other team’s best player.” — Century coach Ryan Frost

Julian Bowie, fr. G, Pocatello

The lowdown: Bowie came on the scene like a torpedo zipping through the water. The Pocatello freshman seemingly scored 20 points in every other game, quickly cementing himself as one of the best pure scorers in the area. He could beat opponents with deadly pull-ups or explosive drives to the hole. Most importantly, he didn’t handle himself like a freshman, with his preternatural scoring matched by a self-confidence that meant he had no problem going head-to-head with experienced seniors in tense district games. Bowie averaged 15.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, has already picked up a DI offer from Idaho State, and was named the Journal’s Boys Freshman of the Year.

Quotable: ”He affected games in so many ways. He scored, hit a ton of shots in crunch time, and because he has the range that he does, he spreads out everyone’s defense and makes the game easier for his teammates. Plus his basketball IQ is next-level. He hit huge shots to beat Preston at Preston and game-winners against Blackfoot.” — Pocatello coach Joe Green

Cole Harris, sr. G/F, Preston

The lowdown: Scoring, rebounding, passing, defense — it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Harris filled the water coolers, washed dirty uniforms and drew up plays in the huddle for the Indians, too. All-Area Player of the Year Gabe Hammons was the No. 1 scoring threat for Preston. For everything else, there was Harris, who averaged 13.3 points and added a team-high 7.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. It wasn’t uncommon to see the hard-nosed all-around player rip down a rebound and then lead the break himself, and his ability to both control the boards and run the offense opened up freedom for Hammons to concentrate on other things — namely, putting the ball in the basket.

Quotable: ”I just liked how he played. He made them go. He got rebounds, he started a lot of transition stuff for them. When they were running a play, it seemed like it’d be a high ball screen for him. I don’t think they had that solid point guard, but he would kind of be that guy when they needed something.” — Century coach Ryan Frost

Bryler Shurtliff, jr. G, West Side

The lowdown: Shurtliff nabs all-state recognition like he’s Indiana Jones hunting treasure — if it’s out there, he’s going to get it. After making first-team all-state at three positions for football, he added the same honor for basketball, averaging nearly 20 points for West Side. Listed at 6-foot-1, with track-star speed and deep-shooting touch, Shurtliff posed a nightmarish pick-your-own-adventure for most 2A teams, who had to choose how they wanted to die: via post-ups, slashing drives or bombed 3-pointers? It turned out to be a disappointing season for a Pirates squad that lost just twice to Idaho teams in the regular season, but Shurtliff certainly wasn’t to blame for their two-and-out exit at state, averaging 29.5 points in the two losses.

Quotable: ”He did a lot for us, he could score, he could rebound and he could defend. In the state tournament, he really stepped it up. He carried us at times. We just needed a little bit more (at the state tournament), and he did step it up at the right time. He could cause a lot of mismatches. We posted him up a lot in the state tournament and he scored a lot for us.” — West Side coach Tyler Brown

SECOND TEAM

Owen Teuscher, sr. F, Bear Lake

The lowdown: Bear Lake jumped a level at the end of the season, beating No. 1 seed West Side twice to take the district championship and then battling to win the consolation championship at the 2A state tournament. A big part of that was coach Brandon Carlsen going to a starting lineup with three sophomores and two seniors, and a big part of why the new look succeeded was Teuscher’s steady play as one of the only experienced players on the floor. He averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and was named the 2A District 5 player of the year.

Mason Mickelsen, sr. F, Highland

Century coach Ryan Frost said that Mickelsen was the only player all season that he had to send an automatic double-team at, and just about every coach the Rams played agreed. At 6-foot-7 with bulk to match and a polished post game, trying to handle Mickelsen one-on-one was pretty close to hopeless. Even with all the extra attention, Mickelsen averaged 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and picked up his second straight first-team all-conference honor in 5A District 5-6.

Bracken Howell, sr. G, Marsh Valley

Consider this almost a team-achievement spot that could have gone to any one of about four players for Marsh Valley, which won the state title despite not having a player average over 12 points. Howell wasn’t the leading scorer (that was Stanton Howell, at 11.2 points per game) or rebounder (Cody Hansen, 6.0) for the Eagles, but he definitely embodied their team-first ethos, averaging 9.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He was the only Marsh Valley player named first-team all-state.

Mitch Lindsay, sr. G, Snake River

Four of the Panthers’ five losses before the state tournament came to eventual 3A champion Marsh Valley, and three of those were by just three points. Lindsay was the guy who got the ball for Snake River at the end of those tense games, and for good reason. The senior could get a bucket from just about anywhere on the court, shooting 52% from the floor, 39% from 3 and 82% from the free-throw line. Noah Watt was the knockdown, floor-stretching shooter for the Panthers, but Lindsay was the true three-level scorer, averaging 14.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Carter Layton, sr. F, Blackfoot

A post who was just 6-foot-2 and could shoot like a guard, Layton embodied the positionless ideals that first-year head coach Clint Arave tried to instill at Blackfoot. The Broncos might have been one of the most hard-luck teams in Idaho, losing three of their last five games by two points, including to Bonneville in a season-ending district tournament loss. Layton averaged a team-high 13.6 points per game, and was second with 4.8 rebounds.