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Recipe for success: Hot Springs hires new basketball coach

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | July 3, 2024 12:00 AM

Ingredients and the blend. 

Those, according to new Hot Springs High School boys basketball coach Mike Benson, are the keys to success. 

And while that may be true in things like chemistry and baking, it is also a fixture of Benson’s approach to basketball and creating a team environment. 

Benson, who was named boys coach this Spring following two disappointing seasons , is eager to get to work. Benson had previously been an assistant coach for the Savage Heat.   

This year, AD Brady Ovitt will be Benson’s assistant. 

“We do have a solid group of guys coming back,” Benson said. “My job will be to get them focused on basketball and on becoming a team.” 

Last season, with standout post Nick McAllister sidelined most of the year due to an ankle injury, the Savage Heat still had a shot at making it to the Divisional tournament. 

They beat Alberton and Noxon at the District tournament in Polson, then lost to Drummond in a play-in game a few days later in Alberton. 

This year, McAllister appears to be on the mend, adding to Benson’s optimism about the coming year, his first at the helm of a boy’s basketball team after coaching girl’s teams, including a successful stint as coach in Thompson Falls, where the Lady Hawks made two state championship appearances.  Benson also coached the Lady Heat for four years and coached at Plains also. 

“We have a group of guys coming back who are good ball players,” he said. “I see most of my job as one of bringing them together as a team.  I also want them to have fun playing the game.”

His basic approach involves keeping it “simple” and letting them play the game as it unfolds. 

“I think you are supposed to have fun as a team, enjoy the game and keep it simple,” he said. “We will focus on lots of reps in practice to get the basics right.  Once they are comfortable with each other, the rest will take care of itself.”

This year Hot Springs will be part of the newly created District 13C conference, a combination of last year’s 14C and 13C.  Benson acknowledges the new league will be stronger and the competition more daunting, but he is quietly confident in his player’s abilities. 

“We lost a couple key seniors from last year (Quincy Styles-Depoe, Elijah Campbell and Mike Merriman),”he said.  “I like our team coming back.  There are also some potentially really good teams like Noxon who will be tough opponents.”

Benson will be counting on four main factors as he assembles this year’s team, he said. 

“The four main things I look for are character, attitude, work ethic and athletic ability, in that order,” Benson said. “I want the guys who will come to practice and focus, who will have a positive attitude and want to keep playing”. 

In addition to the anticipated return of the now 6-4 McAllister, Benson cited senior Weston Slonaker, a solid all-around player and deadly three-point shooter and two sophomores, Daniel Slonaker and Ben Aldridge, as key players coming back for the Savage Heat. 

Also expected to see significant playing time are senior Calvin Timmer, a solid forward, and guard Wesley Adams, who will be a junior. 

One intriguing prospect could come from an incoming, 6-1 Brazilian exchange student, who is reportedly a solid player and, like McAllister, a calf roper in the rodeo arena. 

Above it all, having fun playing the game, Benson said, is paramount to success. 

“You have to be able to stay relaxed, to not get tense,” he said. “I’ve never been a ‘gotta win every game’ guy.  Those things happen when team’s come together.”

And, he added, “the key is how you play at the end of the game and the end of the season that are most important.”