Ten months at DRA is no joke. Your parents send you there, and you don’t talk to them for a couple of weeks. It’s one of the hardest things any kid could go through. —Tyus Milhollin
RICHFIELD — Tyus Millhollin hated the decision his parents made to send him from his Sacramento, California, home to a residential treatment high school in Hurricane, Utah.
But nearly a year later, the senior can’t even find the words to express his gratitude for a journey he didn’t want to take.
“(Diamond Ranch Academy) is a blessing in disguise,” said Millhollin, after he helped the Diamondbacks win their first 1A state basketball championship with a 62-57 victory over Rich Saturday at the Sevier Valley Center. “Ten months at DRA is no joke. Your parents send you there, and you don’t talk to them for a couple of weeks. It’s one of the hardest things any kid could go through.”
Millhollin initially said he was quitting basketball after being a Division I prospect last winter. But after a few months at Diamond Ranch, he began to soften, especially after meeting some of his teammates, like Salt Lake native Bowen Sykes.
He said “living together, fighting with each other, sharing showers, sharing clothes, it’s honestly a brotherhood.”
That brotherhood helped the school earn its first football title in the fall, and now it has its first basketball title. Millhollin, who played wide receiver for the football team, said the win Saturday night was much more emotional for him because of how much he loves the game.
But before that, Rich, the defending champion, came out on fire.
Mitch Jarman, Koy Brown and Nick Jarman all hit 3-pointers while the Diamondbacks struggled from the field. Both teams played well defensively, with the exception of Diamond Ranch allowing those long-range shots. The Rebels owned a 25-18 lead heading to halftime, which is when Diamondbacks head coach Trevor Jenson would have some tough questions and a new plan.
“They lit us up in the first half, which is what got them the lead,” Jenson said. “I got worried, I won’t lie. Rich is a good team, and they execute their offense well.”
Millhollin said Jenson asked them if they remembered this was the last game of their high school careers? When they said yes, the coach said, “Then play like it.”
Jenson said they came out with a different offensive plan that allowed them to take advantage of some situations they’d seen in the first half. The Diamondbacks outscored Rich 24-17 in the third quarter, in what was a true team effort. Ryan Jones hit some big shots and sophomore Dakota Steen was key on the boards, especially when Sykes went to the bench. Even role players like Blake Vonachen came in and did just enough to help the team claw its way back into the fast-paced game.
“They’re resilient,” Jenson said of this players. “Rich got us off our game in the first half. I think with Tyus, it was nerves and taking (bad) shots. They were playing good straight-up defense, which is what we want. We’ve got some good men and good ball handlers that can exploit that. We just weren’t executing in the first half.”
Foul trouble made the Diamondbacks come back tougher after Sykes and guard Nick Johnson each struggled with foul trouble. Sykes picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter and had to go to the bench with his team trailing 37-31.
“I was just frustrated,” said Sykes, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. “I usually don’t get in foul trouble, so when I do, I get mad at myself.”
Steen, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, said he had his own moments of doubt in the game.
“There were times I put my head down, went to the bench and totally shut everything off,” he said. “But then coach sat there and told me he needed me, and that’s when I knew I had to come out in the second half and step up and be the X-factor that coach thinks I am.”
There wasn’t much the Diamondbacks defense could do to stop Mitch Jarman, who finished with 22 points, including five 3-pointers. Payson Willis added 16 points while Brown added nine points and Jarman finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
“It was up and down, and our kids played hard,” said Rich head coach Ashley Brown, complimenting Diamond Ranch for being a tough team. “They played hard all year long; this isn’t what they wanted, but we had a great year and we’re just very proud of them.”
Millhollin said the hardest part of rallying in Saturday’s game was that his shot wasn’t falling. But while he struggled, going 3-of-15 from the field, Steen was a perfect 7-of-7. Millhollin kept driving and was rewarded with 15 foul shots, of which he made 13. He finished with a team-high 21 points and seven assists.
Jenson said the boys on the team have taken advantage of the opportunities Diamond Ranch provided them, and not every teenager does.
“One of the big things we teach our kids is once they start something, they have to finish it,” he said. “We don’t allow players to come and sign up for the basketball team or for the football team and then step away from it. They have to finish. It teaches them that anything worth starting is worth finishing, and I think that’s a life lesson for all of these boys. As you’ve seen, it’s ended up in two state titles. They can see that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to.”
Millhollin said the magnitude of what he’s accomplished in 10 months at Diamond Ranch is still hard for him to grasp. It has given him the chance to graduate high school and play college basketball.
As far as earning two state titles after nearly quitting sports, he smiles.
“It hasn’t even hit me yet, honestly,” he said. “I’m out of words.”
1A All-Tournament Team
Tournament MVP: Tyus Millhollin and Bowen Sykes, Diamond Ranch
Dakota Steen, Diamond Ranch
Nick Jarman, Rich
Mitch Jarman, Rich
Koy Brown, RichComment on this story
Dason Houston, Panguitch
Brenen Rowley, Parowan