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Diamond Ranch earns first boys basketball title with resiliency, team work

Published: Saturday, March 5 2016 10:20 a.m. MST

Diamond Ranch reacts to winning the 1A high school basketball state championship game against Rich at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield on Saturday, March 5, 2016. Diamond Ranch won 62-57.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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.