High school basketball: Lone Peak among the favorites as new season tips off
Ben Brewer, Deseret News
The dust has barely settled from another exciting finish to another high school football season, and it’s already time for high school athletes across the state to shift gears to the hardwood.
Over the next three months, 129 boys basketball teams across the state will play nearly 1,600 games, and the madness begins this Tuesday with 32 pre-Thanksgiving games for Utah schools.
It could be the year of repeat state champions as three of last year’s five title-winners have been voted by the coaches as preseason No. 1s in their respective classifications in overwhelming fashion.
Here’s a class-by-class look at the teams to beat during the 2013-14 season:
A drop-off is inevitable for Lone Peak after the graduation of four starters, including BYU commits Eric Mika and Nick Emery. However, the cupboard is by no means bare for the Knights, who finished last season ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps.
TJ Haws is back for his senior season after averaging 17.1 points and 4.6 assists as a junior, and there’s a very talented supporting cast around the BYU commit that’s been patiently waiting in the wings.
“Obviously we lost a number of good players off last year’s team, but I like the group we have coming back. We have an excellent guard line and size up front with depth,” said coach Quincy Lewis.
Three-time 5A champion Lone Peak is a combined 73-5 the past three years, including a 26-1 record a year ago when its average margin of victory was 26.3 points.
Lone Peak begins the year ranked No. 15 nationally by USA Today, and will have a chance to prove itself on several national stages again. Not only will it face quality teams in the Great Western Shootout at Orem High School on Dec. 5-7, but it also travels to Las Vegas to participate in the Tarkanian Classic starting Dec. 19.
The Knights will have some tough in-state competition to deal with as well.
Semifinalist Alta returns four starters from a year ago, while American Fork is talented and has enough size with big men Ryan Andrus and Tyler Rawson to give anyone fits.
“We have some very skilled, talented bigs and solid guards who have made improvement defensively,” said American Fork coach Doug Meacham. “Our preseason schedule is the toughest we’ve had in my 12 years as head coach, but we are excited for the challenge.”
Davis returns an excellent backcourt with Abel Porter and Jesse Wade, who averaged a combined 28.4 ppg last season, while last year’s runner-up, Brighton, figures to be tough again despite graduating all five starters.
Bingham is a program that’s tailed off the past couple of years, but there’s a new level of excitement in South Jordan with the arrival of new coach Jacob Schroeder.
“I am really excited about our upcoming season. We have a tough road ahead and I am excited to see how our boys compete,” said Schroeder.
Some of the elite talent in the state this season is in 4A, which should make for a very exciting season.
Among the stars are Bountiful’s Sam Merrill (Utah State), Bountiful’s Zach Seljass (BYU), Roy’s Brekkott Chapman (Utah) and Orem’s Dalton Nixon (BYU).
The combination of Merrill and Seljass, not to mention a couple of 6-foot-8 big men in Jeff Pollard and Andrew Lund, are big reasons the coaches overwhelmingly voted the Braves as the 4A team to beat this year.
“I expect this to be a very competitive, tough-minded team,” said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. “With numerous players returning with varsity experience, this team should be able to hit a good rhythm early.”
Orem checks in at No. 2 in the preseason rankings after a surprising first-round ouster to Logan last season, while Olympus figures to be in the hunt again with the return of three starters, led by junior Jake Lindsey.
A year ago Cache County took the 4A state tournament by storm, placing three of four teams in the semifinals, with eventual champ Sky View and Mountain Crest meeting in the championship game. Sky View and Mountain Crest graduated the bulk of their starters and could tail off a bit this season, but the coaches believe Logan is poised to build on last year's unlikely semifinal run.
“Taylor Compton at the point and Tyler Brimhall on the perimeter will be our best threats offensively,” said Logan coach Logan Brown. “Our region proved to be very competitive in the state tournament last year, and it looks to be very similar this year. Every night we will have to play well in order to succeed.”
Roy, meanwhile, is hoping to ride the coattails of Ute commit Chapman to another fine season. He averaged 19 points last season, but Roy coach Dan McClure is hopeful the four new starters surrounding him can rise to the challenge.
“We will be able to surround Chapman with some very talented athletes who can shoot it well,” said McClure. “We were able to get a lot of our juniors some experience in the playoffs last year and are hoping that experience will help us this year.”
Morgan’s boys basketball team ended a 39-year state title drought last season, but the wait for another title might not be nearly as long.
The Trojans are the clear-cut favorite according to the coaches in the Deseret News 3A preseason poll this season despite the graduation of 3A MVP Jake Miles, who averaged 24.7 ppg.
Returning starters Matt Murdock and Bridger Streadbeck will be counted on to pick up the scoring slack after each averaged 5.9 ppg a year ago.
“We are excited to start a new year. After last year’s great ending we know we have a target on our backs and need to be ready to compete every night. Hopefully we will be able to score the ball without Jake Miles, and defend as well as last year,” said coach Jim Wiscombe.
The 3A landscape is a bit diluted this season with the departure Judge Memorial and Wasatch to 4A, but there’s still several quality teams that hope to be in the hunt for the state title.
Many of those contenders hail from Southern Utah. Fresh off of winning the football state title, Desert Hills hopes to secure the prestigious double and it’s certainly possible with three returning starters.
“Our team is optimistic about the upcoming season. The boys are hungry to get back to the state tourney,” said coach Wade Turley. “If things bounce right and we work together as a team, we have the potential to be a very solid team.”
The Thunder should get tremendous competition in their own region from Snow Canyon, which returns three starters from last year’s semifinal team.
Payson is another squad that should be in the mix with three returning starters, led by Daniel Reno, who averaged 15 points a year ago.
The conversation in 2A likely begins and ends with Wasatch Academy.
After a phenomenal 25-1 campaign in which the Tigers claimed the 2A state championship, coach Geno Morgan’s team returns three starters, led by leading scorer Cody John.
Koby McEwen and Geno Luzcano also averaged double figures last season. The trio of John, McEwen and Luzcano will make Wasatch Academy tough to beat.
Like Lone Peak last year, Wasatch Academy is hitting the road several times this season to test itself against national competition. It will participate in the Legacy Tip Off Classic in Las Vegas starting Dec. 7, the Tarkanian Classic also in Las Vegas starting Dec. 19 and then the West Anchorage Tournament from Jan. 16-18.
Even though Wasatch Academy is clearly the favorite, Emery should be a strong team this season, as should South Summit once it knocks off the football rust.
“We have a strong team coming back. We return our two leading scorers, Bailey Faimalo and Dillon Wilstead,” said Emery coach Todd Jeffs. “Bailey is a great playmaker and scorer and our team leader.”
Manti and Gunnison are two other 2A programs hoping to compete, even though there will be a learning curve for both programs with one returning starter.
Year in and year out, the same 1A programs seem to battle it out for the state championship. That figures to be the case again this season.
Rich, Panguitch, defending champion Bryce Valley and Duchesne led the way in the preseason voting once again this season, and all are capable of making a deep run in the tournament.
Bryce Valley only returns two starters from a year ago, but first-year head coach Gary Syrett likes the mix of youth and experience on his team. Kix Roundy is the top returning scorer for Bryce Valley after he averaged 6.8 ppg last season.
Panguitch will be in the hunt once again this year, with senior Tyce Barney leading the way after finishing third in 1A in scoring last year at 21.8 ppg.
“We will depend heavily on our three seniors; Tyce Barney, Keldon Norris and Chance Campbell,” said Panguitch coach Clint Barney. “Tyce will be a four-year starter, and should provide strong leadership. As the season progresses, we hope that our younger players will develop into contributing players on the team.”
Coming off strong seasons in football yet again, Duchesne and Rich might take awhile to hit their stride, but once they do you can bet they’ll play a role in the 1A race this season.