Since the Deseret News instituted the Mr. Basketball award in 1987, a veritable Who's Who of Utah prep athletes has captured the prestigious honor.
From initial winner Kurt Miller to $44 million man Shawn Bradley to Nebraska starter Jaron Boone, Utah preps have lived up to their Mr. Basketball title.Viewmont's Alex Jensen, the Mr. Basketball winner for 1993-94, fits in well with such company.
Jensen heads the 1993-94 Deseret News all-state teams, which include more than 100 players in five classes, if you include first and second teams and honorable mention selections.
While it isn't mandatory to be on a state champion team, each of the MVPs in the five classifications come from championship teams this year.
Gary Langston and Todd Christensen were named 5A co-MVPs after leading Highland to the 5A state title in coach Larry Maxwell's final year. The other MVPs include Sky View's Brandon Birch in 4A, Cedar City's Brian Reid in 3A, Monticello's Curtis Black in 2A and Enterprise's Ryan Banks in 1A.
Jensen was an easy choice for the state's top prep basketball honor. A three-year starter, Jensen helped his team to third-place finishes in 1992 and 1994 and a state title in 1993. During those three years, Viewmont's record was a sterling 68-4.
"Alex is well-deserving," said Viewmont coach Brad Christensen. "He makes others around him better."
Although Jensen stands 6-foot-10, he isn't one of those glued-to-the-floor type centers. In fact, despite being taller than everyone else in Class 5A, Jensen played forward for the Vikings, often guarding opponents seven or eight inches smaller. Christensen can't say enough about Jensen, who will take his talents to the University of Utah next year.
"He's a very flexible player," said Christensen. "He's capable of playing several positions. He rebounds, he shoots, he plays defense . . .
"Anything else, coach?
"He's a team leader and very coachable," added Christensen. Oh, and Jensen also sports a 3.75 grade point average.
In 5A, co-MVPs were named because it was too difficult to differentiate between Langston and Christensen. It's not unprece-dented for players to share MVP honors. In 1989, Emery's Bradley and Richfield's Ryan Cuff were named co-MVPS in Class 2A.
"If there was ever a year for co-MVPs this would be the year," said Highland's Maxwell, who could not pick one over the other. And it's easy to see why.
Both players averaged just under 15 points per game and were very close in their total evaluation, a point system Highland uses to evaluate the overall performance of each player.
The 6-4 Langston was the Rams' top rebounder and scored a lot of inside buckets, while Christensen manned the outside with deadly shooting. But Langston could also go out and hit the 3-pointers, while many folks say the best part of Christensen's game is his ability to drive to the basket.
In the 5A tournament, the Rams would never have made it to the finals without Christensen, a junior, who scored 59 points in the first three games. But Highland wouldn't have won the championship game without Langston, who came up big in the finals with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"Both are fine young men and very unselfish players," said Maxwell. He pointed to an example of a game late in the year when Christensen twice had a breakaway layup and stopped to feed Langston for a dunk.
In 4A, Brandon Birch garnered top honors after leading his team to a surprise state title. The 6-6 center has to be one of the biggest Cinderella stories ever to come out of Utah prep basketball.
After being cut from the freshman team, he didn't even try out for the sophomore team. Coach Kevin Dustin spotted him in a camp that summer and saw some possibilities in his ability. Birch barely made the junior varsity team, playing a total of 30 minutes all season. He kept on working hard and not only made the Bobcats as a senior, but led them to the state title.
"He's a self-made player," said Dustin. "He was a quiet leader for us and seemed to get better with every game this year."
In the state final, Birch won the battle against a more heralded opponent, Greg Barratt of Olympus, as he scored 25 points and pulled down 9 rebounds.
"We counted on his consistency and reliability all year," said Dustin.
Going into the 3A state tournament, the Cedar City Redmen were one of the last teams anyone figured would win the tourney. But thanks to the efforts of the 5-10 Reid, the Redmen staged three straight upsets on their way to the title.
"More than anything else he brought experience to a young team," said Cedar City coach Steve Hodson. "He was a great leader, who did a lot of things for us on the floor."
Reid led a balanced team with a 14.4 average and made 47 percent of his 3-point shots. He was also second on the team in assists and free throw shooting.
Monticello, playing its first year in Class 2A, surprised all the experts by blowing past higher-ranked teams such as Manti and Morgan to claim the 2A crown.
While the Buckaroos had a balanced team, Curtis Black edged out a pair of teammates, Chad Tracy and Brad Bunker for top honors. Black averaged 15.6 points per game, four assists, four rebounds, sank 46 percent of his 3-point shots and 83 percent of his foul shots.
"There's three things that made Curtis so valuable," said coach Mark Hugentobler. "He's an excellent shooter from 3-point range, an excellent ball-handler who controlled the offense, and he could really put the stop on opponents defensively."
Banks was the dominant player in 1A this year as he averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds. First-year coach Gordon Dotson moved Banks from an outside position to the inside where he sparkled.
"He's so quick and he can jump out of the gym," said Dotson. "We took advantage of his post-up abilities and he really took off with it. He's so strong. There's nobody I'd rather have in 1A."
Others on the 5A first team include Bingham's Quynn Tebbs, Brighton's Robbie Yates, Viewmont's Jeramie Martin and a pair of juniors Bountiful's Brett Allen and Alta's Adam Sharp.
Two players off Olympus' runnerup team, center Greg Barratt and Ty Church, head the 4A team. Others include Tooele's Drew Hansen, Provo's Stephen Liddiard and Timpview's Mike Henstrom.
The 3A first team consistes of Dixie's Scott Leavitt, Lehi's Lane Andrus, Emery's Stephen Grant, Richfield's Chris Costa and Pine View's Ryan Lewis.
Monticello's Chad Tracy, Morgan's Matt McKee, Beaver's Kevin Brown, Manti's Kris Jorgensen and Grantsville's Jared Keisel are the 2A first-teamers.
Duchesne's Brandon Rowley is a repeat first-team selection in 1A and is joined by Rowland Hall's Adrian Larson, Rich's Nate Pugmire, Piute's Jason Reitz and Markay Englestead of Panguitch.
The MVPs and first-team players will be honored with trophies at a banquet Saturday night at the Marriott Hotel. The second-teamers and honorable mention players will receive Deseret News all-state certificates.
More than 80 percent of the states coaches participated in the all-state balloting this year.
Alex Jensen, Viewmont
Ben Melmeth, Judge
Jaron Boone, Skyline
Justin Weidauer, Cottonwood
Kenneth Roberts, Bingham
Shawn Bradley, Emery
Matt Bowman, Timpview
Kurt Miller, Ben Lomond