Orem has needed a big dose of believing. What we've done in the summer and what we've done so far in the preseason, we're starting to believe in ourselves as a school and a basketball program and as a team right now. I like where we're at.
Following a disappointing 7-15 season a year ago, Orem High coach Golden Holt had a vision for what he believed could turn the program around. It entailed a lot of work and roughly 60 summer league games, but his players bought into his master plan, and so far it's worked.
The Tigers are off to a 6-1 start this preseason, including a marquee win over Lone Peak a few weeks ago, and they're the boys basketball team everyone is gunning for in 4A this year.
"Orem I think is head and shoulders above everybody else," said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell, whose Braves are ranked second in 4A.
That's music to coach Holt's ears as he tries to lead Orem to its first basketball title in school history.
"Orem has needed a big dose of believing. What we've done in the summer and what we've done so far in the preseason, we're starting to believe in ourselves as a school and a basketball program and as a team right now. I like where we're at," said Holt. "But there's still a lot of work to do and I'm glad we've got 14 games to do it."
After Orem though, Class 4A is littered with uncertainty.
As many as a dozen teams seem capable of becoming relevant with region play getting underway in the next two weeks.
"It's pretty much wide open in 4A, and it's ready for someone to step up and challenge Orem," said Sky View coach Kirk Hillyard.
A year ago, most of the contenders were senior loaded, and now those usual suspects are in the midst of trying to get things figured out.
Bountiful, last year's runner-up, has five new starters. Defending champion Highland has one returning starter, as does Olympus and Woods Cross. In fact, of last year's quarterfinalists, only Sky View and Springville return much experience.
Region 5 favorite Sky View returns three starters, while Region 8 contender Springville returns three as well.
Then there's fringe teams like Logan, Mountain Crest, Bonneville, Skyline, Murray and Timpview, who all have at least one quality win that makes you believe they're capable of big things down the road.
"When you get into region and they count and teams have scouted you and they're prepared for you, it's a whole different game," said Maxwell. "I think we're all going to find some lumps ahead of us, and the team that can whether those best and improve is the team who will come out on top in the end."
Bountiful was looking like Orem's biggest challenger before losing at Olympus last Friday. Maxwell believes despite the loss it's still been a successful preseason for the Braves.
"They've reached my expectations, which has been nice. The biggest thing they have to learn how to do is just win games and win tough games on the road, and that's why we scheduled the preseason the way we scheduled it," Maxwell said.
The schedule won't get any easier in Region 6 with Highland and Woods Cross. Highland recently had Max Bradshaw return from injury.
"We've been kind of a perimeter team, and now with him we actually have a post presence so I think it's going to help us out a lot offensively," said coach Keith West, whose team only allows a 4A-best 44.5 ppg.
In Region 5, Sky View is the team to beat, and the big reason why is balance. Jalen Moore, Casey Oliverson, Riley Knowles and Ty Nielsen are all averaging in double figures this preseason. Coach Hillyard said it's been fun to see different players step up each night.
Of the four 4A regions, Region 7 is the most up in the air with the preseason coming to a close. With recent victories over Bountiful, Bingham and Fremont, Olympus (4-4) might be the slight front runner, but coach Derek Bunting has Skyline playing well in his return to the program, while Murray has a feather in its cap with a win over Riverton.
The Region 8 title goes through Orem, even though Springville and Timpview aren't pushovers.
Orem is led by Timpanogos transfer Jordan Darger and Woods Cross transfer Zach Hunsaker, who are averaging 14.3 and 13.1 ppg respectively. Dalton Nixon, Cooper Holt and Josh Pollard have been making big contributions as well.
The Tigers are no doubt still buzzing about their win over Lone Peak, but as coach Holt said, "now we have to go do it all again in region."
Note: Projections were picked by Deseret News staff, with input from coaches
1. Sky View
2. Mountain Crest
6. Box Elder
3. Woods Cross
6. Mountain View
7. Salem Hills
8. Maple Mountain