Winning the State 1A Division 2 consolation championship was a big accomplishment for a fairly young Carey High School boys' basketball squad last winter, Panther head coach Dick Simpson said last week.
The fact that Carey returns six of its top seven scorers from last year's 21-6 team makes the Panthers prohibitive favorites in their Northside Conference for the 20-game 2009-10 season that opened Tuesday night against Magic Valley Christian.
"Our ultimate goal is to get to the state tournament and win a trophy, and we've had a lot of success," said Simpson, a big part as head and assistant coach of a Panther program that has qualified for the state tourney 13 times in 17 years.
Asked whether Carey is favored in its eight-school league, Simpson laughed and said, "That's the rumor. But to me I'd rather have the other teams shooting for me. That way you have to come to play every night and play your best."
Simpson's Carey teams always have the goal of sweeping their 10 home games and winning at least five of their 10 road games. Doing so puts Carey in good position to win the regular-season league title and tournament championship.
Carey had won four Northside Conference tournament titles in six years before being upset 47-45 by Dietrich in the tournament semi-finals last winter and settling for the league's third-place state berth. The Panthers, winners of 17 of their final 20 games, avenged that loss by beating Dietrich 72-66 in the state tournament.
Richfield, returning its All-League guard Michael Lezamiz from last year's 20-4 Northside title team, will challenge Carey this year. So will Murtaugh with its strong senior Manuel Pacheco, another first-team All-Northside selection in 2009.
But Carey's deep program, with 27 players in four grades, will put pressure on its foes.
"We've got a lot of kids out, good depth and experience, some pretty decent shooters and a fair amount of speed," said Simpson. "We have to improve on defense and do better rebounding and boxing out. We've got ability and talent, but need to become smarter."
Carey hasn't taken anything for granted in gunning for the school's fifth consecutive 20-win season. Twenty-four Carey players participated in the summer program. "We played 25 games over five weekends last summer," said Simpson.
The Panthers won the Small School division at the College of Southern Idaho summer meet, and also gained valuable experience against Boise-area schools at the New Plymouth tournament. "We got an education against bigger schools, taller kids and faster players at New Plymouth," he said.
Simpson doesn't have a tall team, in fact, he could choose to start five guards and "run the floor really hard" with a smaller lineup if Carey encountered an opponent with one or two bigger and slower players.
"We've got some speed," he said. And, to supplement the proven scoring of seniors Brett Adamson (13.4 ppg, double figures in 22 of 27 games) and Trevor Peck (13.3 ppg, 16.7 ppg at state, 50 3-pointers), Carey's varsity has a newcomer who isn't afraid to shoot from anywhere in junior Blair Peck.
Other seniors include last year's assists/steals/blocks leader Dillon Simpson (6.1 ppg) and team rebounding king Wacey Barg (6.5 ppg). Coming off the bench to provide muscle will be junior Jacy Baird (3.1).
New to the schedule are home-and-away games against 1A Division 1 Hagerman and 2A Butte County of Arco. Carey opens at home against Hagerman Friday, Dec. 4 and entertains Camas County of Fairfield next Tuesday. Not on the schedule is reigning state champion Mackay (18-6).
Carey debuted at home in a pre-season jamboree last Tuesday. The Panthers fell to 4A Wood River 31-28 in a close 20-minute affair, then turned around and defeated Hagerman 30-25 with Blair Peck hitting 10 points and Wacey Barg 8.
"We're excited about the season," said Simpson, happy his 13-player varsity is backed by a 14-player junior varsity. "This is one of those years when we have a lot of seniors, seven of them, but we'll lose them next year. So we're glad for all the younger players."
Head coach: Dick Simpson (9th year, 173-40).
Program notes and history: Carey boys' teams are 344-131 (72% winning percentage) in 19 seasons since 1991, and 16-11 in their last 7 state tournament trips. Last year's 21-6 team (55.7 ppg offense, 45.2 ppg defense) won Carey's first State 1A consolation title since 1993 after falling in the state consolation final for 3 straight years. It was Carey's fourth consecutive 20-win campaign.
Seniors: Dillon Simpson 6-2 G/F/C; Brett Adamson 5-11 G; Trevor Peck 5-10 G/F; Wacey Barg 6-3 F/C; Tyler Chavez 6-1 F/C; Brad Peck 5-9 G/F; and Tyler Willis 5-10 G/F.
Juniors: Blair Peck 5-8 G; Brandon Dilworth 5-7 G; Shane Bingham 5-8 G; Jacy Baird 6-0 F/C; Caleb Cenarrusa 5-9 G/F; and Joey Laidlaw 6-1 F/C.
Managers: Toby Whitworth, Matt Whitworth and Nate Adamson.
Statisticians: Todd Peck and Gonzalo Zarate.
CAREY JUNIOR VARSITY
Head coach: Danny Simpson (7th year).
Sophomores: Charlie Rivera, Chance Chavez, Jack Cenarrusa, Dillon Cenarrusa and Baley Barg.
Freshmen: Austin Hennefer, Jace Koudelka, Gunner Thompson, Sheldon Hansen, Jordan Dilworth, Glen Andrews, Patrick Baird, Francisco Gamino and Garret Lee.