B Players, coaches, fans, officials, reporters, administrators - , They're STILL talking about top-ranked and undefeated Emery County's thrilling 84-83 overtime triumph over two-time defending champion Richfield in last week's 2A state championship game at the SUSC Centrum.
The game was a showcase of two of the state's top college prospects in 7-foot-4 Emery center Shawn Bradley and 6-foot-4 Richfield guard Ryan Cuff - and remember, both are only juniors. They showed off their talents in the title affair, with Cuff scoring 43 and Bradley countering with 37 points, 12 boards and a good half-dozen blocked shots. And then the game is decided by a 45-foot halfcourt buzzer-beating heave by Emery guard Steven Gordon.And some assorted leftovers from the game that everybody's STILL talking about.
***** Emery Coach Todd Jeffs, on Gordon's game-winner. "I told him to take the best shot available, but I didn't think it would be from halfcourt."
***** Richfield senior Troy Brown was set to be the hero, having knocked down a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining in overtime, giving the Wildcats a seemingly safe 83-81 lead.
Few people had seen Brown following Richfield's semifinal win against North Sanpete, as the 6-4 forward stayed on the court for some 40 minutes after the late-night game, shooting free throws and outside jumpers after having struggled from the line as well as the floor in the win against the Hawks.
"He deserved to win it on our team if anybody did," said Richfield Coach Dewain Peterson of Brown's extensive practice habits. "I would have loved to have him hit the free throws, win the ball game and be the hero."
Instead, he becomes an overshadowed performer.
***** The consensus was that the game was a sports writer's dream - and nightmare. The game was a championship contest, featuring the top-ranked and undefeated Spartans against the two-time defending champion Wildcats, who had lost by only one point the week before in the final of the Region 10 postseason tournament. Plus, you've got the two individual standouts in Cuff and Bradley and a whole host of other capable, qualified teammates who could - and did - become deciding factors in the game's outcome.
Everybody and everything lived up to the billing, so there was no want of elements to report. In fact, the multi-faceted game perhaps deserved full-page coverage - stories on the game, the Bradley-Cuff battle, the late-game heroics by Gordon and Brown, and the list goes on and on.
***** Funny thing is, folks were telling the reporters present during the first two rounds of the three-day state tournament was that we had missed out witnessing quite an affair from the previous week. The consensus about Emery's single-point nailbiter of a victory in the league playoffs was that Richfield had probably used its best chance to upset Emery. The Wildcats probably wouldn't get another opportunity to be so close to a win, and the media certainly wouldn't get to see such a thrilling game.
Boy, were they wrong.
***** Another player deserving mention is Richfield center Todd Hermansen, who scored 16 points in each of the Wildcats' three tourney games despite a certain handicap. And while most folks probably figured his biggest obstacle was having to guard Bradley, only Region 10 insiders and the most astute fans would know that Hermansen is totally deaf, and his since-birth disability also results in limited speech.
"You don't want to get any more notoriety for the kid (and his disability) than you have to," said Russ Peterson, a Richfield Middle School administrator who opened up his home to Hermansen a couple of years ago. Peterson is also a part-time RHS assistant coach, pulling Hermansen aside during timeouts in games to jot down notes and assignment changes in special one-on-one sessions.
The 6-foot-4 senior actually hails from Manti and attended the school for the deaf in Ogden until the seventh grade, when a teacher for the deaf was stationed in Richfield for the state's south-central area. He has since lived with foster-type families in Richfield, spending weekends, holidays and summers back home in Manti.
Said Peterson of folks in Manti: "They feel like we stole him, but we've got five years invested in him."
And Hermansen feels little hometown loyalty when it comes to high school hoops. "No way, Richfield is No. 1," he says.
Hermansen has overcome any disabilities to excel on the court, with communication coming from the Wildcat players and coaches using hand signals and Hermansen's lip reading. He's aware of a cut in game action "when I see the other people stop."
***** Perhaps the best summary was uttered by Jeffs, sounding like a plug-man for a certain commercial. "It doesn't get any better than that."