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The Big Horns will stay overnight in Billings for a weekend tournament to start their season. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

New coaching staff and a deep, experienced roster could translate to more victories this basketball season.  

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

The Lone Peak High School boys basketball team will open their season at 7:30 p.m. tonight against the Bridger High School Scouts on a neutral court at Lockwood High School in Billings.  

Former head coach Al Malinowski has returned to the varsity job after a five-year hiatus, before which he coached the first eight seasons of Big Horns’ basketball. He said he’ll bring a detail-oriented coaching style, leading his team to recognize the impact of making small improvements. Former head coach and LPHS Athletic Director John Hannahs will remain on the coaching staff, as will assistant coach Dave Magistrelli. Jon Riebe and Garret Kemberling will also join the staff. 

“[Coach Hannahs] created some stability the last couple years, and that’s why it’s great that he’s still part of the team,” coach Malinowski said. “He’s got a lot of other responsibilities here—it’s a challenging thing to be the [athletic director], a teacher and a coach.” 

Coach Malinowski invited EBS to the Big Horns’ final pre-season workout on Thursday night, before this weekend’s pair of non-conference games in Billings. He said the program’s biggest strength this season will be their opportunity to develop depth.  

“Right now we have 17 players, spread pretty evenly among classes; four seniors, four juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen,” Malinowski said. “That gives us an opportunity to have a JV and varsity team, and develop a system where we can get JV guys some meaningful varsity experience as well.” 

He noted it’s not only the biggest team he’s coached in terms of roster size, but also the tallest. Malinowski estimated five Big Horns above 6 feet tall, with Charlie Distad towering at 6-foot-4.

Malinowski sees chemistry between players that have been teammates for many years. As younger players enter the mix, he’s optimistic with the overall team chemistry that already exists through 12 practices. 

Senior captain Gus Hammond stuffs a shot during practice. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

At Thursday’s practice, Malinowski announced the team captains selected by a team vote. Senior point guard Gus Hammond and versatile senior Max Romney were selected to represent the 2022-23 Big Horns, and senior shooting guard Ben Saad was chosen as the weekly captain.  

For Hammond, it’s an honor to have their teammates’ trust. Saad is focusing on setting the tone, working hard and making an effort to let young guys know they’re part of the team. Romney said it’s cool to be a team leader in his final season. 

“Hopefully [it] can get us past that three-win mark,” Romney said.  

That’s a reference to last year, when the Big Horns won only thrice and lost their play-in game for the district tournament. But with six returning varsity players, Romney said the team is deep.  

On team strengths, Hammond said, “I think we’ve got a good crew that’s selfless and wants the team to be successful as a whole and make a statement we have yet to make.” 

Saad thinks it’s going to be a good season for the entire team, pointing to camaraderie and a willingness to work hard for one other. 

Against Bridger tonight, they’re facing a team which coach Malinowski says has been in the state tournament and enjoyed recent success in their division. Malinowski said he looks forward to seeing how the Big Horns will measure up with a strong opponent.  

Saturday evening, the Big Horns will square off against the Absarokee High School Huskies, providing another fresh look against an unfamiliar opponent.  

“I think it’s a good start for us. I like the opportunity to compete against some teams we haven’t seen much in the past,” Malinowski said. “While [Absarokee] might not have had the same record as Bridger, they’re in a really similar position to us, where they’re trying to improve… And then right away Tuesday, we start conference play against Twin Bridges [High School].”  

The captains said they feel prepared and look forward to a challenging test to begin their season.  

Senior captain Max Romney goes for a layup in practice. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

On Tuesday night, both boys and girls will play home games at Lone Peak High School. Girls will play at 5:30 p.m., and the boys at 7 p.m. 

Malinowski said his goals for the season might not be as specific as some of his players’ goals. He wants his team to approach every game without a self-limiting mindset; he expects that his team can be competitive and win every contest.  

“When we get to the end of the season, I think we can be proud if we’ve taken that approach where we’ve competed in every game along the way,” he said. “That’s where my focus is, really taking it one opponent at a time, even taking it one possession at a time.” 

Romney said his goal for the team is simple: 

“Divisionals,” he said. “No Big Horns team has ever made it past [the district tournament].” 

After observing a few minutes of practice, EBS has one early insight which could become relevant during tournament play: 

If the Big Horns need any late-game heroics, they might put the ball in the hands of freshman Ebe Grabow. As time expired in a drill, he forced a turnover and splashed a half-court shot.  

Stay tuned for a Big Horn girls basketball preview, as they prepare to begin their season on Tuesday evening.

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