Red Devils are going places

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By Travis Jenkins

They’ll play in Kentucky and they’ll play on the home floor of the Charlotte Hornets, but where Great Falls really wants to play this season is in Columbia.

The Red Devils are off to a promising start in the effort to make an appearance in the Class A title game for the first time since 2012. Currently, the team is ranked number one in the Class A polls and stood at a perfect 6-0 going into last night’s home game against C.A. Johnson. That included an earlier win (by 39 points) over the Hornets, a two-game sweep of AAA Fairfield Central (by a combined 57 points), a 76-63 win over rival Lewisville and a blowout of Buford.

“We’re learning about ourselves,” said Coach Jimmy Duncan.

What opponents are learning so far is that the Red Devils have excellent depth. The team lost only one starter from last year (that being an exceptional defender in Tommy Belk) but all four returners are off to outstanding starts. That begins up front with junior Kelton Talford, who led the team in scoring last season and is garnering a great deal of college attention, which is to be expected with an athletic player that stands 6-foot-6. Duncan said he has enjoyed watching Talford’s growth as a player.

“He’s expanded his jump shot and his ball-handling,” Duncan said. “The main thing, though, is how well he finishes around the basket now.”

Duncan attributes that last improvement to a year of physical maturing, another year in the weight room, another year of football and his work on the AAU circuit. The Red Devils are far from being a one-man team thus far. The team has primarily gone with a four-guard look, which includes fellow juniors D.J. Adams and Kel Brown and seniors Zy Jordan and Ronj Stevenson. Duncan said there is little to no drop off when reserves like Jaylen Dunham, Sincere Wilmore, Dashon Johnson and K.J. Abrams take the floor. The group has been playing together for a while and has grown up a lot since Duncan’s first season at the helm of the program two years ago. Back then, when this core group was comprised almost exclusively of freshmen and sophomores, Duncan had to go against his natural tendency to want to go fast. Back then Great Falls walked the ball up the court, always made the extra pass to get the best look possible and played a lot of zone defense. That got them over .500, but last year they picked up the tempo a bit and advanced to the third round of the playoffs before falling to Lewisville in an overtime classic.

“This year we’re playing even faster. We’re trying to push the tempo,” said Duncan, who noted that his team’s transition game has been a strength.

Great Falls will certainly face challenges in a region that features Lamar, McBee, Timmonsville and the Governor’s School. On top of that, the team is playing one of its most ambitious out-of-region slates in recent memory. This week, the team will leave for Lexington, Kentucky to play in a big holiday tournament.

“There will be teams from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. It will be a very tough tournament with a lot of college coaches present,” Duncan said.

In early January, the Red Devils will have a rematch with Lewisville, but will do so in the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Great Falls will also host a Class A showcase tournament that will feature big-time heavy-hitters in Williston-Elko, Bethune-Bowman, High Point and defending state champion Hemingway. All of that will provide terrific experiences for his players, but Duncan said that level of competition and those big road games will get his team to its real destination…right down the interstate in Columbia for the Weekend of Champions.

Marlon Talford and Quentin Lamar are back to assist Duncan this year.