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'Ready to go': Carroll primed for season-opener in front of home crowd

Shamrock Campbell versus Providence 2020-21

Carroll point guard Shamrock Campbell looks for an angle to drive the basketball against a Providence defender during a game inside the PE Center last season.

HELENA — Less than 24 hours before the ball tipped on the 2021-22 season, Carroll’s men’s basketball team was in the gym putting the final touches on its off-season, working on everything from out-of-bounds plays to offenses against zone to press breaks.

“We’re worrying about ourselves, of course,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson said. “There’s a million things you can work on before the first game. There’s out-of-bounds plays, there’s sideline plays, there’s transition defense, there’s offense, zone offense, your defenses, press breaks. You don’t wanna get overwhelmed, you just wanna try to simplify it and make sure the guys’ heads are clear and they’re excited to play.”

The Saints have played against themselves plenty of times this summer and fall, most recently in the annual purple-gold scrimmage earlier this week. For the first time in nearly seven months, however, Carroll will suit up against an opponent wearing a different color jersey. Last time the Saints did that, they were playing in a Round of 8 game against SAGU in the NAIA playoffs in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We’re all excited. Everybody is missing playing,” senior Jovan Sljivancanin said. “We’re really excited to play in front of fans and to have a crowd supporting us. The PE Center really gets packed and it’s a great atmosphere during home games. We are super excited for that...This whole week everybody has been waiting for [Friday]. We’re definitely excited and ready to go.”

Paulson said that with a pair of seniors on the roster in Sljivancanin and Shamrock Campbell, as well as veterans like Brendan Temple, Ifeanyi Okeke and others, some of the nerves surrounding the first game of the season melts away.

Yellowstone Christian College is first up on the docket for a Carroll team that was picked by league coaches to win the Frontier Conference this season. The Saints advanced to the conference championship game last year, but fell to Providence on the road before outlasting every other Montana team in the NAIA’s postseason.

In addition to Carroll being picked as the favorites in the Frontier, Sljivancanin was voted as the Preseason Player of the Year and Campbell was selected to the preseason all-Conference team.

“For me personally it means a lot,” Sljivancanin said. “Getting picked as preseason Player of the Year -- all the work that I’ve put in and dedication is paying off. I’m glad that I’m getting recognized. Also Carroll and our team being picked first, it really says that other coaches around the league respect us and think that we have qualities to win the conference.

“It’s really great compliments, but we can’t get comfortable, we gotta keep grinding. Me and Shamrock, as seniors, we gotta start leading these guys and try to prove everything from the preseason at the end of the year.”

Carroll is scheduled to play 15 non-conference games and two exhibitions this year. Ten of those out-of-league games come before the Saints begin conference play against Montana State Northern at home on Dec. 2.

Over 84 percent of Carroll’s scoring is back from last season for a team that went 20-8, including 10-1 at home, and won 12 out of 13 games overall at one point. That was last year, however, and the beginning of the Saints achieving this year’s goals is Friday night in front of a home crowd.

“These kids have worked hard this fall and during the off-season,” Paulson said. “We’ve gotta put last year behind us. It was a great ending to a season that was up and down with COVID. We get to have fans back in the PE Center, so couldn’t be more thrilled with that.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. 

Email Daniel Shepard at daniel.shepard@406mtsports.com or find him on Twitter @IR_DanielS.

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