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Underclassmen Markus Talley, Colton Smith delivering off the bench for Mitchell boys basketball

"We thought we'd have to have them grow up a little throughout the year," said Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. "But they've kind of been grown up since we started."

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Mitchell's Markus Talley brings the ball up the floor during a Hoop City Classic game against Thunder Basin (Wyo.) on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Prior to the season, Mitchell High School boys basketball coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt insisted that all 11 varsity players were going to have a hand in the Kernels finding success in 2022-23.

But not even Kreutzfeldt envisioned the immediate impact the two youngest players on a roster packed with seven seniors were going to have.

Though sophomore guard Markus Talley and freshman forward Colton Smith had effectively zero prior varsity experience — having primarily played on at the sophomore and junior-varsity level with sporadic varsity minutes last season — both have carved out a significant place in the Kernels' rotation off the bench and it's unlikely Mitchell starts 5-1 without their contributions.

"I've been really impressed," Kreutzfeldt said of the young duo. "They're two guys we knew we'd need to play well, but we thought we'd have to have them grow up a little throughout the year. But they've kind of been grown up since we started."

What Talley and Smith might lack in varsity experience, they make up for in skill and confidence, though Kreutzfeldt is quick to note that they're "complete opposites" both in terms of demeanor and position-specific skill sets.

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At an even 6 feet, Talley is an adept ball handler and sharpshooter as well as a quiet and steady presence on the court. Smith, meanwhile, isn't afraid of letting his emotions show and is an athletic 6-foot-4 interior presence with exceptional composure when finishing around the rim — well beyond that of a typical freshman.

Those abilities were on full display almost immediately, as a season-opening win at Huron saw Smith break out for 20 points with five rebounds, three assists and four steals while Talley dropped in eight points with a pair of 3-pointers. Following that contest, Kreutzfeldt was candid about Smith and Talley exceeding his early expectations.

"I was worried it might take a second to get them acclimated to the speed and physicality of the varsity game," the coach said on Dec. 9. "I was wrong on that; they were ready to go."

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Mitchell's Colton Smith attempts a layup during a Hoop City Classic game against Thunder Basin (Wyo.) on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

According to Kreutzfeldt, "no one plays more basketball during the summer" than Talley and Smith. As such, it comes as no surprise both of them credit their summer work for preparing them for the jump to varsity.

Talley and Smith competed on the same 15-and-under Warwick Workouts AAU basketball team together during the summer of 2022, playing for Hamlin (and former Mitchell) head coach Todd Neuendorf, whose basketball philosophy shares many similarities with how the Kernels want to play. Both acknowledge the heightened competition at the varsity level, but neither has looked averse to it through a half-dozen games.

"It's definitely faster and more intense, but that's more fun," Talley said. "There's no pressure really, you just go out there and play."

"It hasn't really bothered me. We just like to get in and play," added Smith, who believes the up-tempo varsity pace suits his game. "I think it comes from playing outside of South Dakota and seeing kids that are a lot bigger and getting pushed around a little bit more. We come back here and it just feels natural."

Through the Jan. 10 win over Huron at the Corn Palace, Smith and Talley rank third and fourth on the MHS roster in scoring at 10.5 and 8.5 points per game on 83.3% and 51.4% shooting from the field, respectively. Each has three double-digit scoring efforts under their belt, including a Hoop City Classic win over Campbell County (Wyo.) in which they both reached double figures and combined for 23 points and 11 rebounds.

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The contributions aren't limited to the offensive end, either, with Talley proving to be a capable on-ball defender and Smith providing valuable rim protection and rebounding on a team that doesn't possess tremendous size. Smith is chipping in 5.7 rebounds (second on the roster), 1.7 assists (fourth), one block and one steal per game, while Talley is contributing two rebounds and one assist per outing.

But what's perhaps the most telling of Kreutzfeldt's comfort level with leaning on his underclassmen is the minutes Talley and Smith often share in the rotation, as the Kernels frequently have both on the court at the same time. With Talley and Smith mixed in with the Kernels' bevy of skilled upperclassmen, Kreutzfeldt believes Mitchell can continue to be one of the most potent offensive teams in Class AA.

"They're both really good and they haven't proved me wrong yet," Kreutzfeldt said behind a wry smile. "Those two make us really dangerous, and when you add in all our other guys — if we can get everyone jelling — we're a tough guard."

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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