HELENA — The Helena Capital boys basketball team graduated four of its top five scorers from last season, but thankfully, for the Bruins sake, one player returning is Brayden Koch.
The 6-foot-1 junior averaged 13.3 points per game last season and set a Capital single season record with 54 3-point field goals, as well as two different games with eight makes.
One of those games was at the Class AA state tournament against Great Falls High. The Bruins, who went 17-6 eventually lost that game in overtime, but it offered a glimpse of how special Koch can be.
It also means that teams will be looking to focus their defensive efforts on slowing him down, which isn't easy with his ability to shoot in transition, as well as off of screens, both with and without the ball.
While scoring is the stat most observers pay attention to, Capital is looking for Koch to make more plays (and create shots) for others, as much as the Bruins hope he adds to his scoring average.
"He's going to have to raise his game, not only on the floor but from a leadership standpoint," Capital head coach Guy Almquist said. "And he's been doing a good job of that. The kids like him. He's a humble leader and I think we're in good shape."
The junior also knows what's coming.
"I know other teams are going to be looking for me and have a good scouting report," Koch said. "But I think we will get lots of chances because teams don't know us as well and we can take advantage of that."
Koch isn't the only Bruin returning with experience and another is Malachi Syvrud, a senior who averaged just under five points a game off the bench last season.
Beyond that, the Bruins will be looking to others such as Trysten Mooney, Jacob Curry and Tyler Tenney to contribute this season, along with a number of others coming up and competing for minutes.
"We have some good shooters," Almquist said. "About as good as last year actually. What we are missing a little is the playmaking -- the Bridger Grovom's and Parker Johnston's who made plays for others. So we are working on developing some more of those but for the most part, things aren't going to change. If you are going to play for us, you have to handle the ball and we have guys who can do that."
Grovom, Johnston, who was the IR's All-Area Player of the Year in 2020 and Trevor Swanson averaged nearly 10 assists between them last season but have graduated. Koch, who averaged 2.4 assists a year ago will fill part of that void, as will Syvrud, who also averaged more than an assist per game.
"I have to try and score more," Koch said. "But I need to be a guy who can make plays and get other guys shots. Parker was a big playmaker for us and I have to kind of build that role. It's something I'm working on and getting better at."
Developing those skills and bringing along a younger roster has been aided by the extra weeks of practice for the Bruins due to nonconference games being canceled.
"The extra practice has been beneficial for us," Almquist said. "We have a pretty new team and we have to develop some of that chemistry. Our effort is great and we have a lot of great kids but we have a long way to go."
Capital will get its first foray into the 2021 season Thursday night with a trip to Butte to take on the Bulldogs. The Bruins played Butte in loser-out action at the state tournament a year ago and eliminated them.
The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, before the Bruins take the floor at the Bears Den for the first time this season which will be against Missoula Hellgate (Saturday, 3:45 pm), a team that defeated CHS three times last year, including in the Western AA championship game.
Like the Bruins, the Knights will be replacing most of their scoring production from a season ago, although, with so much unknown, even the Bruins head coach admitted he's not sure what to expect.
"We don't know 100 percent what to expect," Almquist said. "But it will be interesting. We have a lot of new guys and I do like this team. It's been very enjoyable so far."