By Ryan Divish
The Harlem High school boys basketball team is looking for a game - any game. After capturing the District 2B championship almost two weeks ago, the Wildcats are itching to do something other than practice. Harlem will get that chance today as it opens a tough North-East B divisional tournament against the Fort Benton Longhorns in Shelby.
"We just can't wait to play," said Harlem head coach Kyle Bigby. "We're getting tired of practicing. The kids are getting restless for some competition."
If it's competition that the Wildcats are looking for, they are headed to the right place. The North-East B might the toughest tournament in Class B this year. Five of the eight teams in the tournament were ranked at some point during the season and the top two teams in Class B - Cut Bank and Harlem - sit on opposite sides of the brackets.
"We play in the toughest divisions in the state," Bigby said. "Game in and game out, it's always tough. Any one of the teams at this tournament could contend for a state title."
The Wildcats know a thing or two about titles since they are the defending Class B champs. Bigby believes the experience from last year's title run and the tough schedule this season has his team ready to make a run at back-to-back titles.
"There are two things that you can't teach in basketball, height and game experience," Bigby said. "We don't have a lot of height, but we do have a lot of experience. Our five starters have been through battles that you can't teach."
Indeed, Harlem has played a quality Glasgow squad three times this season as well as picking up its only loss to Havre.
After losing to Havre on Dec. 13, the Wildcats have reeled off 17 straight victories. Bigby attested the team's success to its committment to defense and unselfish play.
"We've been playing great defense," Bigby said. "We held Glasgow to 47 points at districts and they are one of the best teams in Class B. We've also played really unselfishly. It doesn't matter to our kids who scores just as long as we win."
The majority of Harlem's offense still comes from its five starters. Colby Fetter, Chris Cole, Ben Carrywater, Hank Brockie and Jim Kennedy account for almost 90 percent of the Wildcat's offense. Still, Harlem does have some depth. They play eight players, but their reserves aren't out there to score.
"The three or four kids that come off the bench haven gotten better every game," Bigby said. "They understand their roles which is to rebound and play defense."
Harlem opens the tournament against a scrappy Fort Benton squad. Although the Longhorns sport 10-12 record and have been inconsistent at times, Bigby said his team can't assume anything.
"We can't overlook Fort Benton," Bigby said. "They have good athletes and they're very capable of knocking us off."
Despite its success this season, Bigby still has plenty of things that his team could improve on this weekend.
"We need to do a better job rebounding," Bigby said. "We average about 30 rebounds a game, but we need it to be around 40 a game. We also have to cut down on turnovers. We're averaging 16 turnovers a game and you can't turn it over against good teams."
And good teams fill this tournament. Bigby said there isn't an easy game out there for any team. But he is confident enough his team to pick it as a favorite along with Cut Bank and Glasgow.
"I think us three will be favorites," Bigby said. "People can't overlook Glasgow. They are so big and physical. We know Cut Bank is tough too. It should be a really good tournament."