Top 10 sports stories of 2011

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

On Feb. 23, the Utah Jazz broke up with D-Will before he broke up with them. Fearing he would not re-sign with the team, Jazz brass traded him to New Jersey for forward Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris. It was both shocking and bold, and the ramifications are still felt 10 months later.

"Normally, you hear a buzz about, 'Hey they're thinking about trading Deron.' But we were all surprised. (Deron) was genuinely floored; he didn't know it was coming," said Harrington. "It certainly was a departure from the Jazz tradition ... Whether people want to believe it or not, it had a lot to do with Jerry Sloan and what happened there."

Added Checketts, "I think it signaled a new attitude around the league. We're rapidly heading to the haves and the have-nots with big stars wanting to play in big markets … It's what the NBA has always been about. Guys like John Stockton and Karl Malone and Tim Duncan were so different … I don't know that it was necessarily a change in philosophy for the Jazz as much as Kevin (O'Connor) and Greg (Miller) said, 'We're not going to let a player hold us hostage.' It's tough to trade a superstar."

6. Brandon Davies drama, BYU's NCAA tourney run

BYU's decision to dismiss star forward Brandon Davies from the Cougars' basketball team for an Honor Code violation at the very peak of BYU's most successful season in recent memory made national headlines.

"It was a stunner," said Harmon, "a shock to that team. To lose a player like that, right before the NCAA Tournament, for an issue which would not have been an issue at 99.5 percent of schools in the NCAA, was puzzling for people outside BYU to understand."

And, in the opinion of many, losing Davies meant not advancing past the Sweet 16.

"They had to change their offense," said Harmon. "They had to bring Noah Hartsock inside and Jimmer had to carry more of the offensive load … It made people wonder if they'd had Brandon Davies if they could have gotten into that next round."

Even without Davies, the Cougars managed to advance to the Sweet 16 with victories over Wofford and Gonzaga before succumbing to Florida.

7. High school champs — four undefeated kind

Every year the state crowns state champions in football. But it isn't every year — or any year until the fall of 2011 — that four state champions won their titles with undefeated seasons. Lone Peak (5A), Logan (4A), Hurricane (3A) and Duchesne (1A) all won football titles without suffering a single loss.

"In addition to three undefeated champions, it wasn't Alta or Bingham or in 3A Juan Diego," said Harrington. "It was teams that kind of broke through … People don't know how difficult it is to go undefeated in a season, especially in football. So many things could go wrong, and for all three of them to do it, that was pretty spectacular."

And two of those four teams featured future college quarterbacks (Lone Peak's Chase Hansen and Logan's D.J. Nelson) doing what they do best — winning.

"It's very rare that two great quarterbacks get a chance to shine like that," said Rod Zundel, host of KSL's Game Night Live. "They had their moments and they seized the opportunities. … And as for Hurricane, there was no better story of perseverance and never give up than Hurricane. Most people don't get a second chance, let alone four — and Hurricane didn't waste it."

8. Real close

Real Salt Lake played in the CONCACAF Champions League Finals. They came up short in their bid to reach the FIFA Club World Cup, but thrilled not just local soccer fans but the entire MLS nation with their effort. A 1-0 loss to Monterrey (Mexico) also snapped a 37-game home unbeaten streak. It wasn't just die-hard soccer fans who supported Real's run, the national implications drew new and casual fans to the team, many of whom were coming off the BYU men's basketball high and were in search of something better to cheer for than the Jazz, who by that point in the season were struggling.

"I think really what it meant more than anything else was an evolution in soccer education," said Checketts. "No team in the MLS had done what RSL did … It just catapulted them to a whole new level."

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