They've stunned basketball experts for years. Kids from Utah, beating up on other teams packed with the nation's top youth talent from around the country. They're a novelty. They turn heads. And they're good.
Few have done it better than all-star teams called Salt Lake Metro and Utah Pump-N-Run. These are travel teams that collect Utah kids from grade school to high school and go around the country playing tournaments.
"It's putting Hoosiers discipline and structure with athleticism. People notice it right away," said longtime Salt Lake Metro sponsor and coach Golden Holt, now Orem High's basketball coach.
A core of these players, now playing at Lone Peak High and bound for BYU in basketball and football, are taking center stage nationally. Lone Peak is currently ranked No. 6 in the nation by Max Preps. Many are calling coach Quincy Lewis' team the best high school squad in state history.
Lone Peak played in a national tournament last year in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and when Lewis returned to his hotel room he had three phone calls from elite tournament directors, inviting his team, all expenses paid. On Saturday, Lone Peak traveled to Chicago to play No. 13 ranked Priviso and won in a blowout 85-46. In that game, TJ Haws scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and Mika had 18 points and 15 boards.
"Lone Peak will play in four of these tournaments in-season this year," Holt said. "It's like an NBA schedule for a high school and it's never been done."
Lone Peak will play Chester (Pa.) in the Brandon Jennings Invitational in Milwaukee on Dec. 12 and at St. Anthony High (N.J.) in Jersey City, N.J., on Jan. 21.
It all began many years ago when motivated parents like former Cougar Marty Haws, Holt and Lewis began traveling the country with kids. Most AAU teams go on a couple of trips to Portland or Las Vegas in a year. This team built up schedules that took them to half a dozen.
The current AAU group, together since the second grade, includes BYU-bound Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Eric Mika; Utah signees Parker Van Dyke (East High) and Brandon Miller (Brighton High); UVU recruits Jordan Darger and Zack Hunsaker; and Conner Toolson, Cooper Holt and Talon Shumway, who signed to play football at BYU.
"I remember one of our first wins came over the Houston Defenders, one of the great national elite clubs in the country. I remember seeing the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, now signed at Kentucky, crying because they lost to our guys," coach Holt said.
Another win came over Simeon (Ill.) and its current national player of the year and Sports Illustrated coverboy, Jabari Parker, when all were sixth graders and Antonio Davis was Parker's coach.
"These Utah players came in the gyms and with their precision, teamwork, passing and shooting. (They) simply beat up on other teams. People were amazed and impressed," Holt said.
Emery and Mika are now ESPN top-100 players because of that exposure. "Experts around the country know who these players are," Holt said. In Milwaukee this past summer, TJ Haws and Mika were named among the top 10 players in an elite national tournament that included Parker's Simeon team.
And what's come of it? Future Utes Van Dyke and Miller, current Ute Jordan Loveridge, and future Cougars Emery, Haws and Mika are fearless against top competition. Why? "Because they've competed on the same stage with the Harrisons and others for years," Holt said.
"I'll predict Dave Rose at BYU, with these players, will someday make it to the Elite Eight or Final Four because they sense they belong and they can compete physically and mentally," Holt said. "They won't be thinking they're 10 points down before they even get on the court."
Next Saturday, many of these local players will be in action against each other when Holt's defending 4A state champion Orem team, with Hunsaker and BYU-bound Dalton Nixon, will take on defending 5A champion Lone Peak in the second year of the Great Western Shootout at Orem High. Go to greatwesternshootout.com for more information.
"The game will be at 5 p.m., right before the BYU-Utah game. It will give Cougar fans an opportunity to see future players in action at one place and time before going to that game in the Marriott Center," Holt said.
This tournament also includes Basha High (Ariz.), Bountiful, Denver East (Colo.), South Sevier, Foothill (Nev.) and West Jordan.
Max Preps USA Top 10
1. Simeon (Ill.)
2. Fort Bend Travis (Texas)
3. Prestonwood Christian (Texas)
4. Long Beach Poly (Calif.)
6. Lone Peak (Utah)
7. Rainier Beach (Wash.)
8. Whitney Young (Ill.)
9. Southwind (Tenn.)
10. Salesian (Calif.)
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