GRAND FORKS - Regardless of the victor in both games this season, Berthold's Daniel Yale and Bottineau's Justin McCloud provided spectators with a show in what appeared to be two of the state's best players squaring off.
On Monday night, it became official.
Yale and McCloud, both Mr. Basketball finalists, were named to the Class B all-state first team, as voted on by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Mr. Basketball award winner Melvin Langstaff, North Star junior Jake Hagler - the lone unanimous selection - and Hatton-Northwood's Mike Paulson were also named to the first team.
Bottineau’s Justin McCloud, front, and Berthold’s Daniel?Yale guard each other at the Minot Municipal Auditorium January in a game. The Mr.?Basketball finalists were both named first-team all-state, announced Monday night.
Yale is a repeat first-team selection after leading Berthold to a fourth-place finish at the Class B state tournament. He was a do-it-all performer, averaging 20.9 points. He grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game and averaged 1.7 blocks, but he also hit 51 treys and averaged 2.2 assists.
A four-year starter, the 6-3 Yale started on three teams that played at the state tournament.
"He's a kid who can play anywhere from the point through the post," Berthold coach Brock Teets said. "If he was defended by a guard, we posted him. If he was guarded by a post, he went outside. He can make his own shot off the dribble, hit the three and he's a very good post player, strong and physical. He's the most gifted athlete I've ever coached."
McCloud, a 6-3 point guard, had averages of 24.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 3.2 assists in leading Bottineau to a 23-2 record and second place in the Region 6 tournament. He had a school single-season record of 607 points and finished with 1,456 career points.
"Justin created a lot of mismatch problems for defenses," Bottineau coach Nate Simpson said. "He was a penetrator, a get-to-the-rim player first. But he also was a good 3-point shooter (46 treys) and we could use him in the post. He created a lot of scoring opportunities for his teammates with his ability to find open guys."
Steve Blehm's name is legendary in Class B high school basketball circles. And, on the long list of players named to the first team of the Class B boys basketball all-state team since Blehm graduated in 1973, nobody has come closer to the legend than Melvin Langstaff.
Langstaff poured in an average of 38.4 points a game for Warwick this season. That's the highest scoring average by a Class B first-team all-state pick since 1973, when Blehm - who had a state-record 3,859 career points and once scored 85 in a game - averaged 43.8 points during his senior season at North Dakota School for the Deaf. (That wasn't even Blehm's best - he averaged 47.3 points his sophomore season while averaging 41.1 in his career).
Previously, the closest first-team all-stater to Blehm's senior scoring average had been Page's Brian Buhr, who averaged 36 points in the 1986-87 season.
"When people who know basketball hear Steve Blehm's name, they think phenomenal scorer," Warwick coach Kevin Bennefeld said. "He's legendary.
"To put up numbers close to him, that's a tremendous accomplishment by Melvin."
Langstaff provided the 19-5 Warriors with a strong all-around game, as the 5-foot-10 standout led the team with averages of 10.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He finished with a school-record 1,944 points.
"Melvin's an average outside shooter," Bennefeld said. "His game was penetration, to get into the lane. He could post up and score inside just on sheer will. But Melvin also is a great passer. If anybody was open, he got them the ball."
Versatile is the word that describes all five first-team picks.
Hagler expanded his game this season, becoming more of a scoring threat in leading 26-1 North Star to a second-place finish in the state tournament. The junior paced North Star with averages of 28 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists. He has 1,826 career points.
"We graduated some big scorers last spring," North Star coach Jeff Hagler said. "We needed Jake to score more. I think he was still always a point guard first, trying to get everyone involved. But when we really needed points, he'd go after it.
"Jake's a pretty good shooter off the dribble, there were games when he got in the paint and scored, and he could post up."
The 6-foot-5 Paulson was a standout for the 20-5 Hatton-Northwood team that was Region 2 runner-up. The senior, a shifty player off the dribble, averaged 23.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals and one block. Paulson, a second team all-stater last season, had 1,697 points.
"Mike's biggest strength was his ability to penetrate and get to the basket," Thunder coach Keenan Konschak said. "He had a quick first step, and he had the ability to contort his body to find a way to get shots off. And he'd put (the off-balance) shots in. He had the size to play in the post, plus he's a good 3-point shooter."
Earning second-team all-state honors from the area were North Star's Daniel Grande, Des Lacs-Burlington's Tanner Holte, Divide County's Andreas Holm and New Town's Preston Smith.
Grande, a 6-2 junior, averaged 18.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 4.1 steals.
"A lot of times, he would guard the best player on the other team," Jeff Hagler said. "He will do whatever it takes to win. He's gonna play as hard as he possibly can as long as he possibly can."
Holte did a little bit of everything for the Lakers this season, leading them to fourth place at the Region 6 tournament. The 6-3 sophomore averaged 20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals.
"He just does some things that you really can't coach," DL-B coach Doug Wagner said. "He required a lot of double teams, both inside and outside. He ranks right up there to be just about as good as I've coached, and I've been around a long time."
Holm took his dominance from the football field directly to the basketball court, where the 6-2 senior averaged 21 points, 17.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.8 assists for the Divide County team that placed eighth at the Class B state tournament.
"He was the main factor in getting us (to state), because he kept us in every game with scoring and rebounding," Divide County coach Jake Dhuyvetter said of Holm, who averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds in three games at state. "Going down to the state tournament, everybody thought I was lying. He's as athletic as there is in the state."
Smith made an appearance at state as a junior and carried a young team to regionals this season. The 6-2 senior averaged 20.3 points, 14.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 4.8 steals and 3.3 blocks. Smith is New Town's all-time leading rebounder.
"The only guy coming back from last year, he was our main go-to guy," New Town coach Chuck Hunter said. "Overall, he has tremendous athletic ability. He knew a lot of the load was gonna be on him."
A look at the rest of the second team:
-Jacob Volk, Dickinson Trinity: The 6-3 junior averaged 18.5 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists for the Trinity team that was Region 7 runner-up.
-Lechler, Beach: The 6-8 senior is a second team all-state pick for the second straight season after averaging 21.8 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
-Justin Arp, Sargent Central: The 6-7 senior center averaged 21.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.3 blocks.
-Jake Hanson, Grafton: The 6-foot senior guard averaged 19 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Spoilers team that finished fifth at state. He had 1,191 career points.
-Tanner Purintun, Linton-HMB: The 6-2 senior was a Mr. Basketball finalist, averaging 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 4.1 steals for the Lions team that finished seventh at state.
-Matt Zimmerman, Central Cass: The 6-4 senior averaged 17.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and made 49 three-pointers for the Squirrels team that finished sixth at state.
Sports Editor Chris Aarhus contributed to this story.