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Kailleb Walton-Blanden shoots a free throw during practice Monday at Naasz Gymnasium.

Kailleb Walton-Blanden remembers last year well, even if he doesn't remember it fondly.

After missing the first 10 games of the season due to injury, he came back to a Rapid City Central boys' basketball team that wasn't going anywhere in the standings and finished the year 5-17.

What a difference a year makes.

Walton-Blanden is healthy and the Cobblers are rolling. After weekend road wins against Aberdeen Central (64-60) and Pierre (57-37) the Cobblers are 9-0 and the senior guard has been a big part of the early season turnaround.

He dropped 23 points against Aberdeen Central and 15 against Pierre, but said he is more concerned with getting his teammates involved as the season goes on.

"I would have liked to have had more assists," he said. (I need to work on) not turning the ball over as much and getting people involved. Just staying positive, I feel like if I can stay positive and my team can stay positive everyone else is up."

Although Walton-Blanden cited health as a reason he believes he has been playing better, Cobbler coach T.J. Hay said it's more about the maturity the senior has shown dating back to the offseason.

"He’s turning into a point guard," he said. "I think last year he pressed to be a scorer, and I think this year it comes naturally. By having the ball in his hand a lot he sees that there’s going to be opportunities for him to score, he doesn’t have to create those opportunities for himself.

"I could see it happening over the summer, there were just a lot of things last year that we dealt with, complaining with referees stuff and we don’t have to deal with that anymore."

Last season was tough on the Cobblers, and when Walton-Blanden came back they were supposed to reel off consecutive wins to get back into the Class AA race.

Although they didn't, Hay said going through the losing might have helped the maturing process. Walton-Blanden and rest of the Cobblers put the work in during the offseason, and now they are seeing the fruit of their labors.

"Everybody thought ‘well, when he comes back we’re going to be a lot better but we weren’t playing any better as a team," Hay said. "I think it was kind of a struggle, but part of that was that we didn’t buy in, because we aren’t doing anything different than we did last year.

"Our kids are better; they’re stronger, they’re faster, they can handle contact more, they’re tougher, they‘re grittier, they have a taste of winning and they like it, and I think overall we play harder from top to bottom."

Walton-Blanden said it isn't just him, the entire team of 11 seniors has matured over the summer and going through what it went through last season.

"I just think everybody wants it," he said. "I feel like this year no one is selfish, no one cares how many points they have or how many minutes they play."

Although Walton-Blanden said he needs to improve his passing and focus on limiting the turnovers, and Hay said there is plenty of things the team can do better, life is good for the Central boys' at the moment.

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A year really can make a difference.

"They’re playing for their teammates," Hay said. "It’s not all about me, it’s about Central Cobblers and that’s kind of what has propelled us to where we are right now."

Central tries to go 10-0 Thursday when it hosts Sturgis.

Other athletes considered:

Tori Glazer, Custer girls' basketball: Glazer had a big weekend, scoring 16 points in a 46-40 loss to Hill City Thursday night and dropped 27 in a 57-47 win over Sturgis Saturday.

Dylan Hay, Rapid City Central boys' basketball: Walton-Blanden's running mate at Central also had a big weekend, scoring 20 points against Aberdeen Central and 16 against Pierre.

Marc Williams, Spearfish wrestling: Williams won the 220-pound weight class title at the Mid-Dakota Monster over the weekend in Presho by topping Taven Pharris of Newell in the title bout by fall.

Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.