LAS VEGAS — Top Utah prep basketball teams aren’t sneaking up on anyone these days.
Traditionally underrated and overlooked programs from the state of Utah entered the 2013 Tarkanian Classic with opposing out-of-state programs on full alert — from the first game to the last. Despite the increased attention, the five participating teams (Lone Peak, Bountiful, Wasatch Academy, Orem and Timpview) surpassed expectations, combining for 16 wins against just four losses during the three-day event, which concluded Saturday.
“It’s simply great team basketball,” observed longtime AAU coach and manager of midmajorhoopsreport.com Ladell Hill. “Teams know that when they go against most any team from Utah that that team will have great team unity, will be fundamentally sound in all areas, and will give great effort. That's tough to beat — no matter how talented you are.”
Call it the Lone Peak effect.
The Knights took the state’s basketball profile over the top last season with a historic run that left many across the nation believing the program was the nation’s best.
Even more important than out-of-state perception of Utah basketball is in-state perception, according to Orem coach and longtime AAU coach Golden Holt.
"It raised everything when Lone Peak did what it did last year," Holt said. "What you have now is kids around the state seeing what that great team did and they now know what's possible here in the state. I think the entire state has benefitted from that run and will continue to benefit."
Local collegiate coaches will likely be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Lone Peak effect.
Take Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who was one of many coaches to make the trip to Las Vegas to scout the talent on display over the weekend.
Now in his third year coaching the Utes, Krystkowiak has already landed local standouts Jordan Loveridge and Parker Van Dyke.
"I was asked when I was hired if I was going to recruit in-state kids and I gave the political answer, 'Yeah, of course,' without really knowing much about the local talent," Krystkowiak said. "What I've found are great coaches at the prep level and AAU level and kids that know the game and are talented. It makes it easy for me, and I think coaches around the country are envious of the brand of basketball played here at the prep level."
Krystkowiak recently landed one of the biggest in-state prizes by signing Roy's Brekkott Chapman two years after making his initial splash by signing Loveridge.
"I've found that the kids here in-state really fit our brand of basketball," Krystkowiak said. "They come in prepared and that's a big credit to how they're developed and yeah, it makes my job easier. I'll definitely be looking in-state for recruits first every year I'm blessed to be Utah's basketball coach. I'd be crazy not to."
Most are very aware of BYU signee and Lone Peak star TJ Haws, the younger brother of Tyler Haws. Most aren't as aware of Lone Peak sophomore Frank Jackson, who committed to BYU prior to the season.
Throughout the tournament the 6-foot-1 guard turned heads and frustrated opponents. During one stretch against a tough Redondo Union (Calif.) team, Jackson scored 14 straight for his team.
"He's simply at the level where he can compete against these great teams and do very well," said Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis. "I think he's grown a lot in the short time we've had him here at Lone Peak and he's only going to get better if he continues to put the hard work in."
"He has everything you want," observed Hill, who saw Jackson perform up close for the first time over the weekend. "I think he's one of the top sophomores in the country from what I've seen. I'd put him up against just about anyone."
As for Haws, he was his usual dominating self in all four games. The senior is as well-seasoned as anyone in such tournaments and it showed.
"I can't say enough about what he does for us," Lewis said.
Both Utah State and BYU scored big time in landing Bountiful junior guard Sam Merrill and junior forward Zac Seljaas, respectively. Both players were at the top of their games in Las Vegas — pacing the Braves to a 3-1 tournament record.
"Sam Merrill is simply a winner," said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. "He'll do whatever it takes to win and I think I've lost around just five games since he started playing for me."
The 6-foot-4 Merrill created all sorts of matchup problems for opponents over the weekend, as did the 6-foot-7 Seljaas, who can play and defend the point as well as the post.
"Seljaas is a very versatile player that is still learning how good he can be," Maxwell said. "He's long; he handles the ball well; he has good instincts on both ends. He's really developed well and that will continue."
Boy to man
Orem big man and BYU signee Dalton Nixon performed very well throughout the tournament — averaging 22.5 points per game.
"Dalton has simply become a man since last season with his approach to the game," Holt said. "Last year he was more of a spot-up guy who didn't attack the rim all that much, but that's changed. He's become a true inside-outside threat this season and you're seeing the benefits."
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