First-year head coach Shannon Hill wasn’t really expecting a New Year’s gift from the North Fremont High School boys basketball team, but when the Huskies defeated 2A power Bear Lake back on Jan. 5, he knew things were about to get interesting.

“That was a big deal,” Hill said. “From then on it’s been pretty good. There was real buy-in after that.”

The Huskies will compete in the 2A state tournament for the second consecutive season, taking on Declo at 1:15 p.m. today at Capital High in Boise.

Last year’s trip to the state tournament was historic for the program, but after finishing 0-2, Hill said the team has loftier goals.

”Our team is hungry to do more,” he said. “They’re not satisfied with just going to state. They want to make some noise there.”

The Bear Lake game was an obvious turning point in the season. Most of the basketball team also played on the 2A state runner-up football team, so not all players were in basketball mode early in the season.

“We didn’t have basketball legs under us,” Hill said. “It took us a good month to start playing basketball well.”

That became apparent with the 70-48 win over two-time state champion Bear Lake, which enters the state tournament 22-4 and could be a second-round matchup should the Huskies and Bears both win today’s openers. Since the win, North Fremont has arguably had its best season, entering the state tournament 17-6. The Huskies finished 15-4 after the Bear Lake win, with all four losses coming to state No. 1 state media poll ranked and Nuclear Conference foe Ririe, including a loss in the 2A District 6 championship game.

Despite the losses, Hill said he felt the team was competitive against the Bulldogs, which enter the state tournament as the likely favorite. The Huskies return a core group of players who competed in last year’s state tournament, and combined with the four head-to-head matchups with Ririe, could have the experience to advance in the tournament after going winless last season.

“All these seniors and juniors have talked about it already,” Hill said. “They know what to expect at the state tournament and that’s a huge help to them.”

Senior Garrett Hawkes, a 6-foot-3 guard, is a returning all-state selection and can score (17.5 points) and rebound (7.7) and is athletic enough to be a defensive stopper.

Blake Oberhansley (nine points, five rebounds) is also a returning starter, as is point guard Chris Hansen.

The experienced lineup also proved a benefit for Hill, who has been on the football coaching staff for 21 years and coached a variety of sports, but took on his first season as head basketball coach at the school.

“The boys have been amazing how they adapted and been able to transition through that,” said Hill, adding he’s coached most of the players during football season, so there wasn’t much of a learning curve.

Even so, there were high expectations. Last year’s team finished 13-14. With a strong returning nucleus, another trip to state and getting in the winner’s bracket wasn’t a far-flung belief.

“The community and those around conference, this year they expected us to get in,” Hill said. “Our kids lived up to that pressure.”

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