At times, Tai Wesley must feel like a piece of fly paper. He can't walk on a basketball court without having two or three men instantly stick to him.
Early this season, it was a frustrating feeling for the Provo High 6-foot-7 senior center. Last season, he had his older brother Tika, a first-team All-State selection, to take away most of the attention. But this year he was the Bulldogs' main man.
Opposing coaches immediately adopted the philosophy that if they stopped Wesley from scoring, they'd beat Provo. From the first tip of the season, he was double- and triple-teamed. However, once Wesley and his teammates figured out how to deal with the defensive attention, opposing teams couldn't figure out how to stop him.
He almost single-handedly led the Bulldogs from mid-season mediocrity to a Class 4A state title. Despite the nightly double-teams, Wesley shot 65 percent from the floor, averaged almost 17 points per game, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. In four games at the state tournament, he averaged 19.25 points, earning him the tournament MVP.
Wesley's numbers, his standout senior season and the manner in which he carried the Bulldogs to their 15th state crown has garnered him another honor Deseret Morning News 2003-04 Mr. Basketball.
"He's one of the best players I've ever coached, if not the best," said Provo coach Craig Drury, who has seen a lot of dandies in his 27 years of coaching.
Opposing coaches who fell victim to Wesley are also heaping praise on the Provo star.
"He's the best player in the state," Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis said. "He can score with his back to the basket, face up and score or hit open 3s. His greatest strength as a player though is his 'mean streak.' All your really good players have it."
Some believe that Wesley benefited from playing on a team without many offensive weapons. However, others say that's what makes his performance so impressive. He'd often touch the ball five or six times on a possession until he dissected the defense and diagnosed a way to score. He was masterful with his options in four games at the state tournament.
"We were just throwing the ball into him and saying 'here, beat 'em,' and he did," Drury said.
Wesley, with baskets or assists, often accounted for 80 to 90 percent of Provo's points. He scored 28 points twice and 25 points twice. He had six double-doubles. He had 15 rebounds against Timpanogos and 13 against Bonneville in the state semifinal game a game in which he also poured in 25 points and dished out five assists. His 11 assists, for a center, in the state title game will be hard to match.
"At times I watch him and I'm just amazed at what he gets done out there," Drury said.
So where will Mr. Basketball end up showcasing his skills on the college level? He verbally committed to BYU in November but the Cougars didn't have the scholarship for him that they thought was available. It's unlikely now that he'll play for BYU. He has several other offers on the table and will likely choose one next month. Playing for Utah State is still a possibility. He's also considering playing a year at a junior college, then going on an LDS Church mission and coming back to a slew of Div. I options."I think if I play a year and get that college experience, it will only make me a better player," Wesley said.
Provo, Senior, 6-7, CWesley was the MVP of this year's state tournament. During his senior year, he shot 65 percent from the floor, averaged almost 17 points per game, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. He had 11 assists in the state championship game.
E-mail: [email protected]