This is a big deal to our program. They’re here because they refuse to lose. —Diamond Ranch head coach Trevor Jenson

RICHFIELD — Sacramento-native Tyus Milhollin was so upset that his parents sent him to spend his senior year at Diamond Ranch in Hurricane that he refused to play the game he loved.

“It was a struggle,” said Millhollin, who almost single-handedly carried the third-ranked Diamondbacks to a semifinal win over Parowan in a 68-38 victory Friday night. “The first three months I refused to play basketball. I didn’t want to be there.”

His parents sent him to Diamond Ranch May 8, 2015. His refusal to play basketball was his way of protesting his family’s decision.

“That was my way of getting back home,” the senior point guard said after scoring 35 points in the win. “It did not work.”

He believes his father asked some college coaches that he knew to remind him that it was his own future he was throwing away with his stubborn defiance.

“They told me, ‘You don’t want to jeopardize your future because of this one little bump in the road,’” he said. Eventually, he realized that Diamond Ranch would allow him to put the life he wanted back on track, including high school graduation and playing college basketball.

So he began playing in July, which is when he met senior center Bowen Sykes.

“We just clicked right then, and we’ve been best friends,” Milhollin said.

It was the tandem’s chemistry and leadership that head coach Trevor Jenson said helped the team do what no other has done in the program’s five-year history.

“This is our third time in the tournament,” Jenson said. “And it’s the first time we’ve ever advanced.”

Previously, the Diamondbacks have won play-in games to gain entry into the tournament and then lost in the first round.

“This is a big deal to our program,” Jenson said. “They’re here because they refuse to lose. We came into this tournament and nobody pays us too much mind. Usually, in the past, Diamond Ranch implodes. We let our personalities get the best of us. We beat ourselves.”

That was not the case in Friday night’s semifinal game.

The Diamondbacks rode a jaw-dropping performance from Milhollin to lead 34-24 at halftime. He had 28 first-half points, something he said he wasn’t even aware of until a scorekeeper pointed it out to him.

The Rams were led by Trey Stubbs, who scored 14 points, while Brenen Rowley added 10 points and eight rebounds.

While it was the Milhollin show in the first half, he managed to find his best friend in the second half to put the game out of reach for the Rams.

“(The Parowan defense) worked for a couple of quarters and frustrated (Sykes),” Jenson said. “Ultimately, they got in a little bit of foul trouble, and that opened it up for Bowen, and he was able to capitalize in the end.”

Sykes finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

There was an intentional foul in the fourth quarter on Milhollin, and the game got a bit chippy afterward. Jenson called a timeout to remind his players that they didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize what they’d worked all season to accomplish.

Milhollin said earlier in the season that he struggled to control his temper.

“At the beginning of the year, I was getting technicals almost every game,” Milhollin said. “From then to now, coach has just told me composure. That’s just been the word from the middle of the season to now, I’ve settled down a lot.” Sykes said this year is different in a very critical way this season.

“Last year we were up and down, up and down,” he said. “This year we just have more team chemistry on this team. Last year it was every man for himself, no support. This year, it’s all about family.”

Jenson said this year’s team is able to play a complete game.

“We’ve been able to finish games,” Jenson said. “In the past, we’ve just let it go.”

The difference, the players said, is discipline.

“This year we’re very, very disciplined,” Sykes said.

The championship berth may have surprised others, but it is what the boys have been working toward since last fall.

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“That’s been our goal since day one,” Sykes said.

The Diamondbacks will play Rich for the 1A state title at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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