The 2011-12 boys basketball season featured a lot big-name players, and among the biggest were the five Deseret News boys basketball MVPs.
Not all led their teams to state championships, but all five were dominant players who could score with the best in the state when they needed to.
Here's a summary of this year's MVPs as picked by the Deseret News. The first-, second- and third-team selections as well as honorable mentions, were voted on by the coaches.
Nick Emery, Lone Peak
Outside of an electrifying dunk, nothing gets basketball fans more pumped than someone burying a deep 3-pointer from Jimmer range. Nobody did it better than Emery.
The junior guard knocked down a staggering 86 3-pointers this season in leading Lone Peak to its second straight 5A state championship. He averaged 21.6 points, with 48 percent of those points coming on 3-pointers.
"You've got to say that is the strength of his game, but that's also the thing that can hurt him at times. You can't expect him to play like that all the time," said Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis.
One of those games was a late-season loss to American Fork, but after that game the coaching staff made some subtle changes that really helped Emery become more of a complete player. They started having him defend the top scorers on other teams.
"We learned a lot of things in that game, and one of them was we need to challenge Nick a little bit more from a defensive standpoint. He responded to that challenge the rest of the year, and he's a very capable defender," said Lewis.
Emery scored less because of the adjustment, but Lone Peak was a much more cohesive unit down the stretch and was simply unbeatable in the state tournament. Emery's willingness to get in the lane and distribute a bit more in the state tournament led to tremendous performances from T.J. Haws and Talon Shumway.
In addition to finishing as the third-leading scorer in 5A, he averaged 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.4 steals.
His bread and butter is still the 3-pointer, and he was often at his best on the biggest stage. In the Beach Ball Classic at Myrtle Beach, S.C., during the Christmas break, Emery made 18 3-pointers during four games against quality teams from around the state.
He set a new tournament record with 119 points, surpassing both Mike Bibby and Kobe Bryant, who played in the tournament during their prep careers.
Zach Hunsaker, Orem
Nobody was more important to Orem's 24-win season, which culminated in the first state championship in school history, than its point guard.
"Everybody knows we have good boys, and certainly the talent and skill was there, but to have those boys mesh and play as a team which was obviously my hope and focus, Zach was the glue to that," said Orem coach Golden Holt.
Hunsaker was masterful at getting Orem to execute in the half-court offense, and his defense was outstanding as well. You'd expect that from a player whose dad has been a college coach most of his life.
"His IQ is off the charts when it comes to basketball. He's a 4.0 student to start with, but his basketball IQ just from all of his hard work and good coaching from his dad and others growing up, he's beyond his years right now in maturity," said Holt.
Hunsaker averaged 13.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists this year for the Tigers.
Holt likened him to a Deron Williams type of point guard in that he has a big body and he knows how to use it.
His leadership from the point guard position was key in many games this year. Even though Orem finished with a 24-1 record, it was still a young team that didn't necessarily blow a lot of teams out. When big plays — or big free throws — were needed down the stretch, the Tigers leaned heavily on Hunsaker's maturity to make the right decision.
"He's fearless when it comes to that competitive spirit. He's one who won't take a play off," said Holt.
Tyler Ott, Desert Hills
Other players scored more points than this Desert Hills senior, but Ott's unselfishness and willingness to share the ball was instrumental in leading the Thunder to the Region 9 title and the top ranking in 3A all season.
Desert Hills' bid for the state title ultimately came up short against Hurricane, but it doesn't take away from what the UC Davis signee accomplished all year as he averaged 13.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals.
"I think he's been a very unselfish player. He could've scored more in some other people's systems," said Desert Hills coach Steve Melessa, who recently retired and believes Ott's 1,032 career points will stand as the school's record for many years to come.
Ott was almost unselfish to a fault, with Melessa saying there were many times the coaching staff would've preferred he shoot instead of pass.
With his leaping ability, Ott was a highlight reel waiting to happen every night. At the next level, with his range from behind the arc, he has the potential to become a pretty good shooting guard if he bulks up a bit on his LDS Church mission.
Melessa said Ott will do whatever it takes to succeed, because that's exactly how he approached his high school career.
"He's one of those kids that kind of fell in love with the game early on. He just put a lot of time in. He's played a lot of basketball," said Melessa.
Race Parsons, South Sevier
The reigning 2A MVP, nobody would've thought any less of Parsons had there been a drop in production this year.
"This year he attracted a lot of attention and he got most teams' best defender guarding him and running at him," said South Sevier coach Scott Hunt.
It didn't really matter. A year after averaging 21.2 points, Parsons upped that production to 24.2 points this year in leading South Sevier to the 2A state title and a 24-1 record. He also averaged 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals.
"To average over 24 points per game with that kind of target on his back was pretty impressive. I've had a lot of good players, tough-nosed guards, but Race every single night consistently brings his A game," said Hunt.
Parsons has been starting since his freshman year, and South Sevier's record during that three-year stretch is a staggering 72-3.
After scoring 604 points this year, Parsons upped his career total to 1,410. If he maintains that pace during his senior year, he should surpass his grandpa's school record by midseason. Lynn Parsons, who went on to play at BYU, scored 1,711 career points at South Sevier and graduated in 1965.
If Race Parsons scores 590 points next year he would join some very elite company. Only five players in state history have surpassed 2,000 career points, and Spanish Fork's Robbie Reid is the last to do so in 1993.
"We've been pretty lucky to have him for the last three years, and luckily we have him for one more. He's been a good ball player for sure," said Hunt, who added that Parsons is a humble, respectful kid without an arrogant bone in his body.
Justin Johnson, Green River
There weren't a lot of things Green River's 6-foot-6 big man couldn't do on the basketball floor. He could score from the post, he was a great rebounder, he was a great 3-point shooter and he could play point guard — which became necessary in several state tournament games after Green River's starter broke his ankle.
What separated him from his peers though was scoring ability.
He averaged 33.4 points throughout his senior year, scoring in the 40s on six occasions and in the 50s twice.
"The funnest thing about Justin was watching him be able to score that many points. Some of his best games were our toughest games. He scored 40 points against Grand. That last night (at state) we played Liahona and he scored 40 of our 43 points. The kid can shoot. He's so talented," said Green River coach Tom Hughes.3 comments on this story
His 33.4 scoring average was nine points more than anyone in the state this year. In fact, no player has averaged more than 27 points per game in the last decade, and his 835 points this season ties him for the third most in state history.
Johnson was also a dominant rebounder, averaging nearly 18 per game.
"He's always where the ball is, that's how you get a lot of rebounds. He's just a great athlete," said Hughes.
Unlike most 1A stars who rarely are taken seriously at the next level, Johnson actually earned a scholarship to play at Utah Valley University next year.
"It's huge. We were really excited about it. We took the whole team up there and watched a game and it was pretty exciting for a little school like us," said Hughes.