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Long Creek/Ukiah’s Matheo Buchart takes one up to score in practice with Henry Grannis in the action.

The Long Creek/Ukiah Mountain Lions boys basketball team had a 12-6 overall record last season as a junior varsity team, and now the Mountain Lions are hoping to exceed that record as a varsity team.

“Last year, we were pretty good,” said junior James Kreamier. “This year, I think we can be better, and we’re hoping to make a run at districts.”

Kreamier is a returning starter, along with his brother, sophomore Thomas Kreamier, and junior Ben Combs. Josh Konig, a junior, is also starting for the team.

Thomas said playing varsity could open up college opportunities, including scholarships.

“I like working with this team,” he said. “Everyone is nice to each other. We have our bad days, but everyone is trying to help each other.”

He added, “Our coaches are amazing.”

TC Conner has been coaching for the combined team for five years and the Ukiah side since 2008. Co-coach Amos Studtmann is in his third year coaching with Conner.

Conner said it’s a good thing that he and Studtmann have the same philosophy and agree on game plans.

Their biggest focus, Conner said, is encouraging the boys to play as a team.

He said, with the transition to varsity this season, there isn’t time to return to the basics.

“We’re throwing a lot at them,” he said. “They have to chew it up and process it.”

The coaches turn to the more experienced players to help train and encourage their newer teammates.

Because some of the players are exchange students from other countries, hurdles to overcome include language barriers and different styles of play — some were only trained to pass the ball and not shoot in their home countries.

Combs said he enjoys working with them.

“I like that we get new kids every year and get to know new, different cultures,” he said, adding some had never touched a basketball. “We have to do a lot of work to get the team where we want to be.”

Conner said, along with the training that he and coach Studtmann provide, having the more experienced players helping the newer teammates helps with “closing that gap” when they come off the bench during games.

Long Creek/Ukiah will face Prairie City, Dayville/Monument, Burnt River, Crane, Huntington, Jordan Valley, Harper, Adrian and Four Rivers in the 1A High Desert League.

With the Prairie City Panthers at the top of the OSAA rankings, finishing second in state last year, Studtmann said he expects they’ll be the toughest team they face this season.

He said some on his team are friends with Panther players.

“Prairie City will give us something to measure ourselves against,” Studtmann said.

This year, the Mountain Lions have a team of 11.

Mathéo Buchart, an exchange student from France, is the sole senior, and there are seven juniors, two sophomores and one freshman.

Studtmann said they’re focused on good defense, team-first play and rebounding.

Looking at team members’ strengths, Studtmann said, “Combs is a strong rebounder and a smart defender with good court vision.

He said James Kreamier and junior starter Tiger Zeng are good with shooting and passing the ball.

“Thomas is a great defender and good rebounder,” he said.

The coaches said the team, which is tall but on the lighter side, will have to push and play hard to be competitive.

While reaching the High Desert District Tournament is not a given, Studtmann said, “If they put in the work this year and strengthen their weaknesses, a couple players have a shot at making all league.”

He said the chance to participate in the district tournament is exciting for the players as well as the coaches.

“I’m looking forward to a good year,” he said.

Long Creek/Ukiah boys schedule

Dec. 21-22: @ Helix Tournament, 3:30 p.m., TBD

Jan. 3: vs. Crane in Long Creek, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 4: vs. Dayville/Monument in Long Creek, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 5: @ Prairie City, 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 11: @ Burnt River, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 12: @ Crane, 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 18: vs. Jordan Valley in Ukiah, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 19: vs. Huntington in Ukiah, 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 22: @ Pilot Rock, 6 p.m.

Jan. 25: @ Harper, 7:30 p.m. MT

Jan. 26: vs. Four Rivers in Ukiah, 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 29: vs. Pilot Rock in Ukiah, 6 p.m.

Feb. 1: @ Adrian, 6:30 p.m. MT

Feb. 2: vs. Burnt River in Long Creek, 3:30 p.m.

Feb. 8: vs. Prairie City in Long Creek, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 9: @ Dayville/Monument in Monument, 3:30 p.m.

Feb. 14: High Desert District Tournament in John Day, TBD

Angel Carpenter is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. She can be contacted at angel@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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