Besides spending a good share of the season at the Emery County High homecourt in Castle Dastle, 7-foot-4 center Shawn Bradley has made stops at Moab, Morgan, Heber City, Monroe, Price, Richfield, Gunnison, Fillmore, Manti, Mount Pleasant, and Nephi.
Hardly household names of hoops hotbeds for Bradley, who is undoubtedly the state's hottest high school prospect even as a junior. In other words, the 1988-89 Shawn Bradley Tour so far sounds more like an old-fashioned barnstorming through rural Utah.This week's 2A state basketball tournament at Southern Utah State College in Cedar City is about as big-time as it's going to get for Bradley and the 21-0 Emery Spartans - the state's only undefeated team.
OK, so the SUSC Centrum is a far cry - and a far distance - from the likes of the BYU Marriott Center and the U. of U. Huntsman Center (the sites for the other state playoffs) and the accompanying metropolitan media. Still, even in his hometown of Castle Dale Bradley is able to draw attention from the likes of CBS and NBC, as well as a weeklong visit from Boston Globe sports writer Bob Ryan. Not to mention all the college coaches and recruiters.
Emery is not only the unanimous favorite going into the 2A tournament - which begins Thursday afternoon - but has been the unanimous top-ranked 2A team in the weekly Deseret News coaches poll since the preseason.
Plenty of credit has to go to Bradley, who through the regular season averaged 26 points, 13 rebounds and nearly nine blocked shots per game. Add to him the Spartan's 6-7 forward Lynn Tuttle, and you've got almost 14 total feet of a too-big-two-man tandem that has a 45-point, 21-rebound per-game average.
And there's more. Besides 6-foot-plus guards like Steve Gordon and Todd Huntington, Emery has a trio of underclassmen who each measure at least 6-4.
No wonder, then, that Emery waltzed through the preseason, the 13-game Region 10 regular season and the three-day league postseason tournament with relative ease.
But before the 2A crown is uncontestedly given to Emery County, please consider the rest of the competition, starting with Richfield. The Wildcats are the two-time defending 2A champions and have won the title three of the past four years.
Richfield has come the closest of any in conquering Emery, losing 75-67 at home during the regular season and then nearly upsetting the Spartans in the championship game Saturday of the Region 10 tournament, with Tuttle's rebound basket good for the Emery's 67-66 sigh-of-relief victory.
In addition to tradition, second-ranked Richfield boasts its own featured talent in junior Ryan Cuff, a 6-4 swingman who was the 1988 2A MVP and who joins Bradley in becoming two of the top four or five junior hoopsters in Utah. Like Emery, Cuff is surrounded by more than just a supporting cast, including teammates like Troy Brown, Clint Henrie and Todd Hermansen - the latter just one of five Wildcat players who are 6-4.
Following on the heels of the two frontrunners are Wasatch, San Juan and Hurricane. Here's some highlights on each of the threesome:
- Wasatch returns as the 1988 runner-up and the last team to beat Emery (and that was in last year's consolation game for third- and fourth-place honors). The Wasps suffered through a 2-7 start, but most of those preseason games were on the road and against top-quality 1A, 2A and 3A competition. After a nine-game win streak in league competition, Wasatch easily claimed the regular-season Region 9 title and the postseason tourney title as well. Van Pinter and Paul Berg, a pair of 6-1 team captains, can light it up from outside.
- San Juan comes in with a 16-4 independent record, plus a second- place finish in the Region 9 tournament. While the Broncos are Blanding-based and perhaps a bit of an unknown commodity statewide, the team logged regular-season triumphs over Wasatch and Farmington, the latter an annual championship contender in New Mexico. San Juan is led by speedster Jimmy Ray, the USU football signee who was languishing with a broken ankle this time last year.
- Hurricane took third-place honors in the Region 10 tournament, and you can bet that the Tigers will end up being the closest thing to the tournament's home team. Sparked in part by junior Chris Hurst, Hurricane finished its regular-season at 14-4 overall, with most of the opponents being southern Utah schools and counterparts from neighboring Arizona and Nevada.
Rounding out the rest of the eight-team field are North Sanpete, Morgan and Park City. North Sanpete earned the final berth from Region 10 after defeating Manti in a special preliminary playoff on Monday at Snow College. And while both teams finished in the middle of the pack of the Region 9 regular-season standings, Morgan and Park City qualified for the state play offs with 2-1 records in the league tournament.
However, the three-day tourney will also be without some fairly notable teams. After finishing first, second and fourth in the past three 2A playoffs and earning second-place honors in the Region 9 standings this season, Lehi couldn't advance past the Region 9 state-qualifying tournament. Manti and Delta - two teams that were ranked at different times in the 2A polls this season and who feature headliners like Russ Mickelson and Rob Fowles, respectively - couldn't make it out of their Region 10 postseason playoff.
The tournament begins Thursday with Wasatch squaring off against North Sanpete, Park City playing Richfield, Emery meeting Morgan, and Hurricane facing San Juan.
The championship game of the UHSAA-First Security Bank 2A state tournament is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Deseret News Coaches Poll
Final 2A regular-season rankings
Team record points
1. Emery 21-0 25 C
2. Richfield 18-4 20
3. Wasatch 14-8 15
4. San Juan 16-4 8
5. Hurricane 16-5 7
2A State Tournament at SUSC Centrum
Wasatch vs. North Sanpete, 2:30 p.m.
Park City vs. Richfield, 4:10 p.m.
Emery vs. Morgan, 6:30 p.m.
Hurricane vs. San Juan, 8:10 p.m.
Emery-Morgan loser vs. Hurricane-San Juan loser, 2:30 p.m.
Park City-Richfield loser vs. Wasatch-North Sanpete loser, 6:30 p.m.
Emery-Morgan winner vs. Hurricane-San Juan winner 4:10 p.m.
Park City-Richfield winner vs. Wasatch-North Sanpete winner, 8:10 p.m.