Class B Region 1 is North Dakota boys basketball’s land of the giants.
There are only five players in all of Class B listed on rosters at 6-foot-8 or taller. Four of those five players are in Region 1: Enderlin twin juniors Joe Hurlburt (6-10) and Gus Hurlburt (6-8), Kindred senior Gavin Keller (6-9) and Wyndmere-Lidgerwood sophomore Bryer Kaczynski (6-10).
“I’ve been in this region my whole life — playing at Central Cass and then coaching here at Enderlin and I’ve never seen this many really tall players,” Enderlin coach Calvin Kraft said. “My brother played on a team in 1996 that had every starter over 6-5, but nobody over 6-7. I’ve seen tall guys before, but when you get into the 6-9, 6-10 range, that type of height is rare.”
On Monday, the Hurlburts and No. 2 Enderlin got a chance to hit the road and play against the only Class B player 6-8 or taller who doesn’t play in Region 1, 6-10 center Bronson Walter and his top-ranked Four Winds-Minnewaukan squad.
FW-M prevailed 85-70 at home in the clash of top-ranked teams. Joe Hurlburt scored 18 and Gus scored 15 and Walter, the Indians’ big man, scored 10.
“I like playing against taller guys,” Joe Hurlburt said. “Taller guys are typically slower and I feel like I can create a mismatch with my speed if they’re guarding me.”
The opportunity for that kind of faceoff with another tall player isn’t as rare as it may once have been. These days, top players from around the country face off in AAU tournaments all spring and summer. This year, the Coronavirus pandemic cut down on the volume of tournaments available to players. So these opportunities to face off against other players their own size will prove valuable as they move ahead with their basketball careers.
Tall high school players historically have a tendency to rely on their height mismatch as their only weapon. So when they get to college and face players their size every game, it takes time to adjust and develop other ways to attack. But Kindred coach Brad Woehl says that seeing other tall players on a regular basis, forces them to develop those counters earlier.
The Hurlburts and Keller have garnered interest from college programs. Joe Hulrburt has offers from an array of Power-5 schools including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oregon State, and Virginia Tech. Gus Hurlburt has D-I interest including an offer from North Dakota and Keller has interest at the D-II level including an offer from the University of Mary of Bismarck.
“I think it’s very important to go against top competition, especially size-wise,” Woehl said. “We always say you have to have a primary move and a counter move. I think that’s going to help (Keller) getting the ball in the right spot and making the right move. And getting ot the free throw line. Also being able to finish against kids the same size if not bigger than him.”
Keller averaged 16 points and eight rebounds, and four blocks per game last season as a junior for Kindred. Woehl says he is crucial for their offense as they want to get the ball into the paint and then work from there. He is working on improving his ability to read double teams and pass out of the post, but that is still a work in progress.
“He’s on everybody’s scouting report,” Woehl said. “He is one of the opponent’s targets. They need to stop Gavin in the post. Probably down the road we’ll look at facing a lot of zone because we do have other kids that are long and lanky. Hopefully we’re prepared for anything an opponent throws at us.”
Kraft described each of the Hurlburts as positionless basketball players who are a perfect fit in modern basketball. They are long and have the height to play inside, but pair that with the athleticism to play on the perimeter and shoot with range.
Joe averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds per game while racking up 30 blocks as a sophomore last year. Gus averaged 13 points and 18 rebounds per game with 13 blocks.
“Positionless basketball is the new thing and they can check all the boxes,” Kraft said. “They’re not just back to the basket guys. They help at every position. They’re all pretty skilled, they move around. One team does one thing to counter it and we can move people around to take advantage of it.”
“I love playing with Gus,” Joe Hurlburt said. “If I blow by my defender and I get a double, I can just dish it off to Gus and he can get a bucket. And our pick and rolls are fun with just Gus and I. We’re pretty good at those.”
Bryer Kaczynski was among the state’s leaders in blocks last season despite playing a limited role as a freshman. He turned away 33 shots last year including 10 in one game. He notched a double-double in Wyndmere-Lidgerwood’s season opener with 14 points and 11 rebounds last week.
“He was pretty good for a freshman last year. I think he’s got a pretty big upside,” Woehl said. “His feet are going to be a lot better this year and his ability to finish around the basket. When there’s a 6-10 gut out there — driving to the basket or attacking the basket — you always have to be aware of where he’s at because he’s going to protect that rim and the basket area.”