The boys basketball landscape in 3A is diluted, and there's no way to sugarcoat it otherwise. The classification was trimmed from the top after last season, with defending state champion Pine View and runner-up Dixie both being bumped to 4A.
"I don't think it's as strong to be honest," said Judge coach Jim Yerkovich. "Taking them out drops the number of top teams there are in 3A."
No. 1 Judge is still among those elite teams, as are Bear River and Delta. Beyond that trio, its a muddled classification in which 15 of the 20 teams are either at .500 or below it just three weeks into the preseason.
"It's definitely going to make it different, and more wide open," said Bear River coach Van Park. "There's definitely still some competitive teams, and it's still going to be real competitive."
Just like the previous two seasons in which Judge amassed a 46-4 record, the Bulldogs are once again the team to beat in 3A. Judge returns 6-foot-9 big man Noel Hollingsworth, a senior who's already averaging a double-double this season and who's committed to Brown University.
"His size creates a problem for other teams, he's a very skilled big guy, he's got good touch around the basket and a good offensive rebounder," said Yerkovich.
Judge will also rely heavily on Stallon Saldivar, a starter at shooting guard his sophomore year who's shifting to point guard this season to fill the shoes of graduated first-team all-stater Jaxon Myaer. Saldivar isn't quite the scoring threat Myaer was but his coach loves the way he runs the offense, particularly when it comes to delivering the ball to Hollingsworth in the post.
The state's 3A coaches pegged Bear River as Judge's main competition in the Deseret Morning News preseason rankings, which initially seems like a mistake considering the Bears' 1-3 preseason record. It's a deceiving record.
Bear River's two best players are both banged up because of football injuries, and only one has even played yet. After missing the first game, Jake Miller's played in the past three games, including a 39-point outing in a win over Wasatch.
Bear River's best athlete, Wade Bronson, was deemed healthy enough to play by doctors this past Friday, but that was before he had his tonsils removed on the same day, meaning he'll be out at least another 10 days.
"When he gets back, and we work out a few kinks, I definitely think we'll be able to compete with anyone in 3A."
Delta has quickly emerged as one of those elite teams. Left out of the preseason top five rankings by the coaches, Delta is one of two undefeated teams remaining in 3A along with Hurricane, and the Rabbits have picked up several impressive wins along the way.
Delta is fortunate enough to have a trio of three-year starters, Jaren Jeffery, Kurt Neilson and Spencer Stoddard.As the season progresses, other teams who could emerge as contenders include Juan Diego, Union, Wasatch, Logan, Canyon View, Cedar and Hurricane. Considering the parity so far, don't be surprised if other teams pop up on the contender radar as well.
3A preseason boys basketball rankings
1. Juan Diego
5. North Sanpete
1. Canyon View
4. Park City
1. Bear River
5. Ben Lomond
6. OgdenNote: preseason rankings determined by coaches' votes.