RICHFIELD - With nine nationalities on the basketball team, creating a cohesive unit might seem like an impossible task.
"I love it," said Wasatch Academy head coach Geno Morgan after the Tigers earned their first-ever state championship berth with a 64-53 win over Rich in a thrilling semifinal game Friday. "I love this group of kids. They all give each other a hard time about their culture, some know English better than others, they joke around about each other's culturesThe bus is fun.
They all get a longBasketball is a universal game."
Their love of the game and desire to earn an education in America may bring them together in Mt. Pleasant, but dealing with negative comments about being a private boarding school in the state's smallest classification has forced the rely on each other even more.
In Friday night's semifinal game, thousands filled the stands of the Sevier Valley Center, and many chanted "U-S-A!" before the game and at certain points in the contest. They also waved U.S. flags until the principal of Rich High took them away from those in the student section.
"I thought it was unsportsmanlike but we've been dealing with it all year," said Morgan. "At the end of the day, these are kidsI don't care where they're from. They're kids."
Both teams played like men. In what was one of the most beautiful and athletic displays, both teams battled for every point, every rebound and especially every loose ball.
Jarryn Skeete, as he has done all season, led the Tigers' scoring with 23 points despite some of the most intense man-to-man pressure possible.
Point guard Evaldas Aniulis added 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Insa Kaba and Dimitar Kurtev chipped in 10 points each. Fred Krajacic had a jaw-dropping slam dunk in his seven points, but it was Skeete's no-look passes that would have made any college highlight reel.
"He's a player," said Morgan of Skeete. "He's as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned, in the state. "He kept working and in the second half, I don't know if they wore out, but he didn't."
As for Aniulis' rebounding, Morgan grinned.
"Our point guard is our leading rebounder," he said. "He's just as tough as it getsThat's just wanting the ball more than the opponent. I don't teach that. It's just his nature."
The Rebels were led by the outstanding shooting and passing of Kayden Calder, who finished with 21 points. Parker Stuart led the effort inside with nine points and nine rebounds. Cody Groll added seven points and five assists in the loss.
The Rebels will face ICS in Saturday's third/fourth place game.
The Tigers will take on the Warriors, a team they've played three times and beaten twice.
"It's better to go with the devil you know rather than the devil you don't," said Morgan with a smile.