LAS VEGAS — The nation’s best are in Las Vegas this week and those with Utah ties are holding their own.
This week marks the grand finale of offseason AAU tournament play, with almost every big prospect from around the country in town.
Considering the recruiting spectacle inherent in such a tournament, most college coaching staffs are represented here as well. A quick survey of the bleachers finds coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Florida’s Billy Donovan and North Carolina’s Roy Williams among many others at games featuring the top teams.
“It’s awesome,” said Jake Toolson, who plays for Nevada Select and has committed to BYU. “I love looking up and seeing legendary coaches, but most of all, I love seeing coach (Dave) Rose there and his staff. It’s a great showing of support from them, even though I can’t approach them and talk to them.”
NCAA regulations prohibit coaches from making contact during the final weeks of July, but most coaches do their best to come out anyway, if only to show their faces.
Rose was able to see Toolson, who hails from Highland High School in Arizona lead his team to a dominating win over the Colorado Chaos in the morning session and a six-point victory over Cal Supreme in the nightcap.
BYU’s staff was also able to see Toolson’s teammate, Payton Dastrup, who has offers from 26 programs nationally, as he preps for his senior season at Mountain View. Dastrup is strongly considering BYU and will soon narrow his list to five potential suitors.
“It’s crazy, and I really didn’t think it would get like this, but it’s really humbling for me, and I hope I just make the best decision I can,” said the 6-foot-9 standout. “It’s an incredible honor for me, but I’m really focused on finishing out strong with my great team. This is our last tournament, and we definitely want to make the most of it.”
The nostalgia of the AAU process isn’t lost on the participants, but probably even more so for Lone Peak‘s TJ Haws. Since the first grade, the 6-foot-4 star who has committed to BYU has spent his summers traveling around the country with various AAU teams.
This year he’s playing for DreamVision along with standouts such as American Fork’s Ryan Andrus and Brendan Bailey and Orem’s Cooper Holt and Quinn Peters, among others.
“It’s kind of sad to think it’s coming to an end and it’s hard to believe this is the last one,” Haws said. “It’s been such a huge part of my life since I can remember, so yeah, it’s sort of sad it’s all coming to an end.”
DreamVision started the tournament with a loss, but took it out on a team from Nebraska the next day, winning by more than 70 points.
Utah Pump N Run is continuing its tradition of great play led by the Red Elite 17U team, which includes Highland’s Jake Connor, Orem’s Jordan Darger, American Fork’s Tyler Rawson and Olympus’ Jake Lindsey, among others.
“It’s an unbelievable tournament out here, and it’s such a great opportunity for the kids, who have put in so much time, to end it like this,” said Pump N Run coach Todd Phillips. “It’s a dream come true for any basketball junkie, and we’re having a blast out here. It’s been great for all of us.”
Last, but certainly not least, is a Utah Prospects team that features a trio of the state’s best in Roy’s Brekkott Chapman, Orem’s Dalton Nixon (BYU commitment) and Bountiful’s Sam Merrill (Utah State commitment) among others.
Utah Prospects appears poised for a deep run in the Fab 48 tournament following a dominating first-day victory over Sports U from New Jersey.
“I love the team we have this year, and I think we can take on anyone,” Chapman said. “We definitely take pride in representing Utah because I think most teams disrespect us because we’re from Utah when they see us warm up and all that, but we’ve surprised a lot of teams, I think, and we’ll keep on surprising teams that underestimate us.”
Utah teams may not feature nationally rated top talent, but they have a tendency to play a solid, team-based type of basketball that is extremely effective.
“The credit goes to these kids and how much they buy into the team concept of basketball,” said Utah Prospects coach Lynn Lloyd. “They’re a pleasure for me to coach and I feel this year might be the best we’ve had. We’re peaking, and I feel we’re playing as good as we’ve played all year here at the end. The key for us is the kids genuinely love each other and want to play for each other, and I think that’s the same for a lot of the Utah teams.”
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