Helena hopes to reach regionals as McDonald’s squad continues improvements

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

The expectations are great for the Helena Huskies’ boys basketball program in 2023. Year one of the Lucas McDonald era went about as well as any first year could go with the Huskies capturing an area title and finishing just short of a regional appearance. Still, the coaching staff will have to find a way to replace six departed seniors.

Helena should take another positive step in McDonald’s second year at the captain’s wheel. The veteran coach expressed positivity at media days as the players begin to adapt to his system, putting the program in a better position to start the season.

“In year two, we have better concepts of what we want to do, we have terminology down and our basic schemes in place, so we’re a little bit further ahead of where we were last year even though we don’t have everyone,” McDonald said. “I still felt like last year at Christmas, we were trying to figure it out, but this year much more further ahead schematically.”

The level of buy-in this summer was at 100 percent and new varsity players willingly accepted their new roles, which was extremely encouraging to the coaching staff.

“This summer, I didn’t really know how it was going to go, but we gelled really well,” McDonald said. “This year, I feel like we have guys who can shoot really well and who are taking the right shots. Defensively, we guarded well, and I foresee us being able to grow in that aspect during the course of the season.”

When you have to replace so much upperclassmen leadership, it certainly doesn’t hurt to bring back two All-County selections. Rising seniors Josh Williams and Ian Johnigan were arguably Helena’s most productive players in the team’s run last year and are poised to make a lot of noise as both possess skills that could take them to the collegiate level.

Williams can score from anywhere on the floor and knows he will be receiving the bulk of the attention when it comes to his opponents’ defense. With that being the case, he plans on finding new ways to make plays in his final season.

“This year, I’m looking to find my teammates and be more of a leader because I know that’s what you need to do in order to be a college guard,” Williams said.

Johnigan echoed the same sentiments about expanding his game and bringing his fellow players along.

“Biggest thing is to help guys who are still learning and finding out where they need to be on the court, but still be able to contribute in my role and help my teammates,” Johnigan said. “Driving to the basket, finding the open man and being a good teammate.”

The senior sharp shooter has played his entire career with his older sister and fellow baller, Olivia, watching, but with her taking her career to the college ranks, Ian has been learning what the next level is like from her, and he’s taking notes.

“Overall, it’s been very beneficial, we have a call every week and she updates me on how practice is going and what it’s like at the college level,” says Johnigan. “She helps me with the decisions I make and what I want to do in the future.”

Coach McDonald knows his two seniors will be relied on heavily to play well and be mentally tough for a team with a lot more youth than last year.

“These guys have both grown basketball-wise and leadership-wise, and they’re taking on a new role, which they should, as seniors,” said McDonald. “You’re only going to go as far as your senior leadership takes you. We lost six seniors last year and we have a lot of new faces. Josh led us in assists in our games over the summer, and he’s trusting his teammates more. Ian is a great shooter, but he’s got to be more than just a set shooter and he’s continued to grow and work on that.”

As the new Huskies are fitting into their roles, the pieces to the puzzle are starting to come together. A more balanced offense with more outside shooting is coming up on the horizon.

“For us, all five guys are really interchangeable which works to our strengths,” said McDonald. “We’re going to be a little more balanced than last year scoring the basketball, and that makes it more difficult to guard. Developing that depth offensively is what we’ve worked on. We’ve had good moments sharing the ball and that’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful.”

Helena has the potential to have a special season and eclipse the heights of last year. Lucas McDonald and his staff are determined to make it happen.

“Goal-wise for us, we want to win the area, take care of business there,” McDonald said. “I hated it for our seniors because they didn’t get to experience playing in a regional. And our big goal is to get to that regional. Once you get to a regional, anything can happen, and it’s hard to get there, but we’ve talked a lot about finding a way and doing the little things we need to do to get there. I want that experience for these seniors.”