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A steady senior: Helleloid provides calming presence for Mitchell's offense

Ben Helleloid has committed 13 turnovers while playing 30 minutes per game.

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Mitchell's Ben Helleloid (21) scoots past Thunder Basin (Wyo.)'s Cade Ayers (4) during a game on Dec. 30 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

As Ben Helleloid dribbled casually down the floor, Zane Alm stuck his arm in the air.

It was late in the fourth quarter and Mitchell High School held a double-digit lead on Rapid City Central. Alm had already brought the Corn Palace to life with three thunderous dunks and he wanted an outlet pass for one more.

Helleloid shook his head and continued to bring the ball past the half-court line to chew clock in a 59-47 win on Dec. 18.

A year ago, Helleloid might have obliged to Alm’s request. In fact, on one occasion, he saw Alm all alone as he ran down the floor and whipped a pass on target. Only Alm was not looking for the ball, it ricocheted out of bounds and Helleloid earned disapproving glances from the coaching staff.

The senior point guard has become the steady hand for the Kernels. He is averaging 7.3 points per game, but rarely takes a breather and is often solely responsible for ensuring the ball moves up the floor to get Mitchell into position offense.

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Helleloid does not have statistics that shine in the box score, but his even-keeled demeanor and calmness with the ball has teammates believing he has been as valuable as any other player during the Kernels’ 6-0 start.

“I definitely think Ben is just as valuable,” Alm said. “Without Ben, I don’t think our offense would run nearly as smoothly. He’s the one bringing it up the floor, he’s making the passes — without Ben our offense isn’t anywhere near as good as it is.”

Helleloid has evolved into a savvy player, but two years ago, he was a nervous sophomore struggling to adjust to the pace of the varsity game. He split time with then-senior Derek Factor and started a few games, but he often found himself operating outside of his comfort zone.

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Mitchell's Ben Helleloid (21) drives past Campbell County (Wyo.)'s Tanner Lemm (13) during a game on Dec. 29 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After moving into the starting lineup last season, Helleloid gradually began to grasp his role — when to push the tempo, when to throw an outlet pass to a streaking teammate and when to slow the game down during helter-skelter moments. Thus far, he has 21 assists compared to 13 turnovers, while playing more than 30 minutes per game.

“When you wanted to focus on what you were trying to get done on the offensive end, your mind was always on something else — trying to get by the guy in front of you or trying to get them out of the way so you could make the right pass,” Helleloid said. “That was always a struggle. … Early on, (the game) was a lot faster than I was used to and it’s taken some time to adjust. But this year, I know what’s going on and the pace seems just right.”

The turning point for Helleloid came in a road game last season against Sioux Falls O’Gorman, which ranked third in Class AA at the time. O’Gorman used a one-man full-court press to harass Helleloid up and down the floor all game, but Mitchell head coach Todd Neuendorf decided not to provide any help and his point guard responded.

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Playing nearly the entire game, Helleloid committed two turnovers and had nine points — including going 3 of 4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter — as the Kernels pulled an 80-74 upset.

“My concern back then was he wasn’t sure with the basketball,” Neuendorf said. “He let the defense dictate where he was going to go. Now you see a kid that isn’t going to let that happen. When we inbound the ball, I’m not worried about it getting up the floor and he gets it up the floor and gets us in our stuff.”

Now comfortable in his role with the team, Helleloid has come to grips with the idea he typically will not be the team’s leading scorer each night. Instead, he has found other ways to make an impact.

He is shooting 50% from 3-point range, 48.6% from the field, and at 6-foot, 26 of his 44 points have come in the paint, often as he sneaks in for an easy pass for a wide-open layup. Helleloid has also scored half of his point total in the third quarter, which has been Mitchell’s best this season, outsourcing opponents 101-64.

“Zane and (Caden) Hinker are going to get a lot of attention and they usually draw double-teams from one of the smaller guys and that’s who’s guarding me,” Helleloid said. “So, a lot of backdoor cuts and cuts where we people aren’t expecting it is where I’m getting a lot of my points on dinky layups.”

Mitchell travels to Huron at 7 p.m. on Saturday for its first road game of the season.

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