Following their 52-37 win over Palmer Ridge on Saturday, Montrose High School boys basketball was named the 2021 Cougar Tip Off champions.
The boys finished off a 3-0 week, sweeping their first road tournament of the 2021-2022 campaign.
It’s the start the Indians were looking for. Now, as their focus moves on to Roaring Fork, there’s more work to be done.
“Our offense looked really good,” Montrose guard Trey Reese said of the team’s undefeated weekend. “But our defense needs to get better… we didn’t run as much and we were getting beat on back cuts.”
Montrose scored more than 60 points twice and were above 50 once, outscoring opponents 184-145 over the three-game stretch. But there were lapses defensively, Reese said after Tuesday’s practice, which prioritized defense.
“We just need people to step up,” Reese said. “I think Luke (Hutto) is going to step up and be the best defender in the (Southwestern League).”
Hutto, known for his scoring ability, is expected to fill the void left by 2021 graduate Jordan Jennings, Montrose’s top defender last season.
It won’t be easy. Jennings was asked by head coach Ryan Voehringer to guard the opposing team’s top scorer every game last season, an assignment he aced time and time again.
Hutto will be asked to match that success.
“(Hutto) turned into our top defender,” Voehringer said before the season of Hutto’s play during the summer. “He’s always been a great offensive player, but if you want to play at the next level, you better be able to play both ends off the floor. The last two or three games of last season and throughout the summer, he’s become our best defender.”
Offensively, Hutto, a Fort Lewis boys basketball signee, is off to a quick start — he scored 48 points and grabbed 22 rebounds across Montrose’s three wins. Defensively, he showed a spark, leading the team in blocks (four) while nabbing three steals.
Others, like Javier Esparza, understand an improved defensive approach will net additional playing time.
Esparza, the backup big, scored a career-high 14 points in Thursday’s win over Coronado, but he, too, said there were breakdowns defensively.
“I definitely can work on my defense,” Esparza said. “Getting a bit faster, getting out and running and especially my defensive skills out on the perimeter.”
Esparza knows his role — coming off the bench to provide key minutes as the backup big — but he wants to become a better defender. He knows he can score. It's playing better defense that's his priority when his number is called.
“It’s all defense,” Esparza said of his in-game mindset. “Moving my feet, staying on my toes and staying in front of my defender. That’s where I struggle the most so I really need to focus on that to improve my game.”
Perimeter defense is also of focus for Kaleb Ferguson, a freshman adjusting to the speed of varsity play. Reese and Fletcher Cheezum, both strong defenders, led the team in steals with six and four, respectively.
The players will watch film on Wednesday, dissecting and analyzing how to improve and become better defensively. Taking such a leap helps when players embrace their roles.
“I know (my role) is important because there’s always risk of injury or foul trouble,” Esparza said. “I have to play my role, fill the shoes of (Ashden Oberg), play my hardest and give it all I have out there.”
Montrose, which dropped to No. 6 in CHSAA’s weekly boys basketball rankings despite the 3-0 start, will visit Glenwood Springs this week for its second road tournament. They’ll tip off against Roaring Fork on Thursday before battling host Glenwood Springs on Friday and Moffat County on Saturday.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press