Brock Teets recognized the talented threesome before it became a force in Region 6 boys basketball.
Three seasons ago, Tanner Holte was already starting for Des Lacs-Burlington and fellow Lakers freshmen Chris Duke and Cole Edwards showed flashes of ability off the bench. Now seniors, the three have since blossomed into all-region players, with Holte earning first-team all-state honors last season.
"They were hanging with teams and you could just see it coming, the way they played," said Teets, Bishop Ryan's first-year coach who was leading Berthold at the time. "They were very intelligent."
Senior Tanner Holte is an all-region player for Des Lacs-Burlington, a team pegged by many as the Region 6 favorite.
Holte, Duke and Edwards have been the Lakers' most gifted players since their sophomore year and led DL-B to a 17-5 record as juniors. The Lakers were ranked for most of the season but got throttled by state tournament-bound Rugby 69-47 in the Region 6 tournament semifinals. The trio has accomplished basically everything but a state tournament berth, and most area coaches favor them to check that off their list this season.
"This is my first time I've had three like that," said Doug Wagner, in his 33rd year as D-LB's coach. "That's rare to have three guys be that strong for you that long. I'm pleased about it as a coach, to have guys of that caliber."
DL-B opens its season tonight at Tioga.
At a well-built 6-foot-4, Holte is the most physically dominant. He's the second-leading returning scorer in Class B at 24.6 points per game, added 10.3 rebounds per contest and drained 56 3-pointers last season.
"You have a kid like Tanner Holte, you put a guard on him, he hurts you with his size," Teets said. "You put a big on him, he's gonna go around them. He's such a tremendous scorer, if he's open you can put it on the board."
Duke is a rangy 6-4 wing who can launch jump shots from anywhere and slash to the basket. He drilled 66 3s last season and averaged 19.5 points. Teets said "you have to honor him from 30 feet."
Then there's Edwards, the 5-10 point guard. The lefthanded catalyst played with an injured hand much of last season but still tallied 10 points and 4.4 assists per game.
"As good as Duke is and as good as Holte is, you've gotta be able to stay in front of Edwards," Teets said. "He's like the human joystick. He's always very in control, he's an excellent ballhandler and passer, and then he can also knock down some shots."
The list of tasks an opposing team has to accomplish to beat DL-B has grown along with the skills of the Lakers' touted threesome.
"I feel like a lot of people are expecting us to win the region championship," Duke said. "We feel like if we don't win state, it's a fail. We know what we can do and we just wanna put that on the court. I feel like we underachieved a little bit last year."
Despite the headline-grabbing play of DL-B's Big Three, Wagner said his team's depth may be the biggest reason for its expected improvement. Junior guard Brett Schaefer is a fourth returning starter known for his quickness and defensive ability. Wagner said five more players - seniors Cole Hannenberg, Thomas Steenstrup and Mitch Medalen, along with junior Eric Knutson and sophomore Jayden Gunville - could challenge for the other starting spot vacated by the graduated Travis Johnson.
"That's a good problem to have a number of guys who deserve to have that spot," said Wagner, who added he wouldn't be surprised if the scoring averages of Duke and Holte drop due to the Lakers having other capable players on the floor.
The offensive weapons are certainly there, but Duke expects the Lakers to grow the most on the opposite end of the court.
"Our defense is 10 times better than last year," he said. "I feel like we're really gonna use a lot of pressure to harass teams."
As for pressure on DL-B to make state before its stellar seniors graduate? Wagner said he prefers the word "incentive."
"There have been lots of good basketball teams over the years in North Dakota that haven't made the state tournament," he said. "Do we think it's our year? I guess we'd like to think of it that way, but we're not looking to the end of the year. We need to focus on right now, not three months from now."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University and high school athletics.
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