Tigers’ two big transfers make impact
During summer open gyms, New England boys basketball head coach Luke Powers saw two new faces at the Tiger Den -- 6-foot-6 junior Christian Kilwein and 6-8 sophomore Cody Holt.
During summer open gyms, New England boys basketball head coach Luke Powers saw two new faces at the Tiger Den - 6-foot-6 junior Christian Kilwein and 6-8 sophomore Cody Holt.
Both students were planning to attend New England High School at the beginning of the school year.
However, Powers said he has coached long enough to know he can’t plan on having players on a team until the start of the school year.
“When Cody and Christian all of a sudden showed up, I honestly didn’t believe it until the first day of school,” Powers said. “I called down here and asked if they were in school. Then I thought, ‘Holy cow, it’s actually happening.’”
Once Powers received the official word that Kilwein and Holt were enrolled in New England High School, the wheels started turning.
The Tigers were already returning their starting five and first two players off the bench. With the addition of Kilwein and Holt, New England had to rethink its offensive strategy.
“We had a ton of good guard play and kind of had to attack from the perimeter, but getting them helped us to be so balanced,” Powers said. “We can go inside with it. More importantly, they bought into what we do here. We work hard and get after it.”
Kilwein moved to New England from Hettinger, and Holt moved from San Angelo, Texas. The two transfers have added quality varsity minutes and much-needed depth.
They also played big roles in helping the Tigers (22-2) to their first Region 7 championship game since 1997.
Holt averages 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game off the bench, while Kilwein - the team’s starting center - supplies 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 points and 2.4 assists.
San Angelo, an oil-industry city in west central Texas, has more than 100,000 people and the high school Holt attended had about 400 kids, which is almost six times bigger than New England High School’s enrollment of 69.
Holt said playing sports was the easiest way to make friends in a new school.
“I played sports down in Texas and that’s how I pretty much met everyone down here, so I figured I would do the same thing here,” he said.
While Holt had the extra tasks of meeting new friends and getting acquainted to living in North Dakota after to his father accepted a job with Helmerich & Payne, and oilfield company, Kilwein had different obstacles, which included playing his former team - the Hettinger-Scranton Night Hawks.
New England defeated the Night Hawks 55-50 in overtime on Jan. 27. The Tigers met the Night Hawks again during the Region 7 Tournament semifinals and won 73-65.
During the 2013-14 season, Kilwein quit playing for the Night Hawks halfway through the season. He didn’t plan on playing basketball after his sophomore year in Hettinger.
“The first time we played them, I was so focused and ready,” Kilwein said. “I was down in the locker room and my physical therapist said I have the flexibility of an 80-year-old man, so I have to stretch a lot. I got out there and I didn’t play very well. The crowd was yelling and booing at me and I didn’t hear a word the entire game, which was so surprising. I thought I would hear everything and let it get to me.”
Kilwein didn’t tell anyone he was transferring to New England right away.
“People think that I left Hettinger because my team wasn’t good and I wanted to go to a better team, so I’m a traitor, but that’s not why,” Kilwein said. “I left for other reasons. (My parents and I) thought about different places. I thought about Richardton. I thought about Glen Ullin.
“I didn’t tell the guys. (My parents and I) just decided and I told Brady (Bender) that I’m coming to New England. Him and Daniel (Prince) just welcomed me right away and we started working.”
In that regional semifinal game against his former team, Kilwein said he fell back in love with basketball. He plans to give everything he has during the final three games of the season.
“All season, I didn’t have my passion for basketball like I used to,” he said. “Something during the Hettinger game just clicked in my head that I want to be a top player again. That’s a really good feeling.”
Holt said what the Tigers have done from the beginning of the season until now has been special.
After they won the Region 7 championship, he couldn’t believe the reception from the town of New England.
“When we got back, it was crazy,” Holt said. “Everybody in the town was waiting in the parking lot. It was absolutely crazy. It great to see how much support the community has for everybody.”