As far as local prep basketball talent goes, the suspense and anticipation going into Wednesday's national letter-of-intent signings is somewhat subdued, thanks to several factors - early signees, underclassmen with eligibility remaining, multi-sport athletes, and prospective LDS missionaries.
Still, there are several "name" players - Jimmy Soto, Quincy Lewis, Russell Larson, Jermaine Haliburton and others - who are unsigned, uncommitted and still available. More on them and their options later.But first, a look at several of the reasons why there's relatively less hoopla surrounding this year's letter-of-intent signings:
- Early signings and commitments. This year's group of fall signees included Bonneville's Tanoka Beard, a 6-9 center bound for Boise State; Spanish Fork's Randy Reid, a 6-2 guard who chose BYU over the likes of North Carolina and Stanford; and Mark Rydalch, a 6-1 guard from South Summit who signed with the University of Utah in the fall and subsequently suffered a serious knee injury early in the preseason.
Not an early signee, but one who has since committed to attend BYU, is Provo's Mark Durrant, a 6-7 forward and brother of former Cougar standout Devin Durrant.
- Underclassmen. The names most often bandied about - Bingham's Kenneth Roberts, Emery County's Shawn Bradley, and Richfield's Ryan Cuff - still have a year's high school eligibility remaining. Enough said.
- Multi-sport athletes. Some players already have cast their lots with other collegiate sports, such as Utah State football signees Jaceson Maughan of Mountain Crest, Todd Wilson of Logan, and Jimmy Ray of San Juan. Other basketball players, such as Taylorsville's Jeff Leatherwood, are hoping to catch on in collegiate baseball.
- LDS missions. Perhaps a trend to watch are the prepsters who opt for a two-year religious sabbatical between prep and collegiate careers, rather than creating an interruption after a freshman or sophomore season. Former East star Josh Grant did just that, following his two-year mission with a potential full four-year stint at Utah, with Provo's Alan Frampton having done the same at BYU.
Provo power forward James Johnson is one of several expected to follow a similar route, although Johnson's own post-mission decisions not only include which college but which sport - football or basketball.
Lewis and Soto, two foes who faced off with their teams in the 3A finals, appear to have the most options still available among the local recruits.
A 6-foot point guard from Timpview and the 1989 3A MVP, Lewis has a dozen-plus offers to consider, including Division I opportunities in the likes of the Western Athletic, Big Sky, West Coast Athletic Conference and Missouri Valley conferences. However, he could opt to spend a year or two at the likes of Utah Valley Community College or Dixie College, earning playing time over initial pine time at a four-year program. It is said that Lewis' decision could come as late as next week.
Meanwhile, Soto's list of likely choices has been whittled down to Utah, Utah State and Gonzaga, the latter being the early season favorite for Judge Memorial's 5-9 all-state point guard. Not only did Gonzaga officials give Soto plenty of attention, but alum John Stockton has befriended Soto and put in a good word or two. "If you're a point guard, who else in the world are you going to look up to?" said Judge Coach Jim Yerkovich of Stockton.
Soto's early-season attention came from coast to coast, ranging from Southern California to Virginia and Clemson. The MVP honor at last month's Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament - previous MVPs include names like Dantley, Carr and Ferry - boosted his stock with other East Coast schools, while Soto and Utah are said to have enhanced their mutual interests of late. Soto is expected to make a choice today.
A 6-foot-10 all-state center from Clearfield, Larson has attracted attention and offers from all of the state's major colleges. Meanwhile, Utah State has shown the most interest in Haliburton, a 6-2 guard from East whose academic standing may require a two-year detour to the College of Eastern Utah or another local junior college.
However, while the overall atmosphere may be subdued as far as local recruits and the state's major colleges are concerned, there will be anxious moments just the same come Wednesday and subsequent days as junior colleges pick up the prep talent that filters down past the Division I programs.
In addition to immediate playing opportunities and high changeover rates for two-year teams, local JCs have become more attractive because of enhanced quality and competition as well as increased national recognition and ranking.
Besides the in-state alternatives of UVCC, Dixie, CEU, Snow College and Salt Lake Community College, other area JC options include Ricks College, Southern Idaho, and Western Wyoming. And prep coaches report some JC interest being shown in certain players from as far away as California, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Metro-area players being contacted by area junior colleges who could sign include the likes of Skyline's Ryan Hunt, Brighton's duo of Drew Peterson and Marc Hagen, Cottonwood's combo of Travis Warner and Jason Schlenske, Granger's pair of Mike Maynard and Jeff Hudson, Bingham's Mike Van Staveren, Pleasant Grove's Lincoln Church, Payson's Barret Peery and Ogden's Brian Moore.