If you're a high school basketball fan, buckle yourself in for what should be another heart-stopping season of Region 4 games.
To many, boys basketball just doesn't get much better. The quality of play is excellent, the matchups should be exciting and every week will feature a game or two that should be hotly contested throughout.
Arguably, it's the toughest 5A league in the state based on last year's results, the players back for another season and preseason expectations. Currently, three of the league's six teams are ranked in the Top 5 in 5A and the Top 10 overall in Utah prep basketball. It would be a huge surprise if a team or two from Region 4 wasn't in the final four in early March, and it wouldn't be a surprise if a team from this league played for and won the state 5A title like the Lone Peak Knights did last season.
The three teams that currently stand above the others are Lone Peak, Pleasant Grove and Spanish Fork. Going into this week's games, the three had a combined record of 16-2. The Knights are ranked No. 2, the Vikings No. 3 and the Dons No. 6. The other 5A teams expected to give these three the toughest challenge are Davis, Brighton and Jordan.
"I think 5A basketball is better this year than last year," Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis said.
With more parity in 5A, seeding will be key for the state tournament which is why league play is so important. Region 4's games are also going to be a great test for each team to really see how it stacks up with the best.
"I think our region does a great job of preparing us for the postseason because we know that we're going to get a tough game every night," Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister said.
As the returning state champions, and beginning the season with a national ranking, the Knights are the ones with targets on their backs. But Lone Peak will have a much different look this season with the loss of key players Ryan Rios and Landon Clegg and the addition of several new trees in the paint. The Knights, with four players at 6-foot-7 or taller, are the tallest team in the state and one of the tallest in Utah in recent years.
With three Division I post players (Justin Hamilton, Josh Sharp and Bracken Funk) and 6-foot-5 No. 2 guard Tyler Haws, the Knights should be almost impossible to stop in the paint. Haws and Sharp also can kill teams from the perimeter.
However, the Vikings are just as talented but in a different way. Cousins C.J. Wilcox and LeSean Wilcox are as athletic as any guards in Utah. Add in the smart and quick Brady Thurgood and the tough Craig Tucker, and the Vikings have one of the top backcourts in the state. Clearly, Pleasant Grove can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. The key to their success will be how their smaller lineup stops teams.
Most expect the Region 4 title to come down to whether Lone Peak's size can outduel Pleasant Grove's athleticism, quickness and speed.
But don't forget Spanish Fork. The Dons surprised everyone last year by making it to the state semifinals. All three guards from that team Dallin Naulu, Zack Clayton and Matt Gardner are back, wiser and more confident. With returning center Devin Nelson and the addition of two new big men Kevin Roberts and Juan Vergara the Dons have all the components to make another postseason run.
"Any night, any team can beat any other team. We saw it last year and there's no reason to expect it will be any different this year. But that sure makes for a fun season," Dons coach Mark Bailey said.
The battle for the No. 4 spot and the league's final postseason berth should be just as exciting as the race for the title. Most give the edge to American Fork, mainly because the Cavemen seem to do whatever it takes every year to make the playoffs. Also, the Cavemen's helter-skelter style of play neutralizes a lot of the personnel and size advantages opponents might have.
Timpanogos returns a very strong guard line and enough new faces in the paint to finally have the size to go with the perimeter scoring. If the Timberwolves can improve defensively and get more balanced scoring, they could get to the postseason for the first time in five years.Lehi is considered the long shot to make the playoffs. The Pioneers are in 5A for the first time and have no returning starters. Still, they have good size and have several athletic players. If they gain confidence quickly, the Pioneers are talented enough to make a run for a postseason berth.
Lone Peak Knights
LAST SEASON: 24-1, first in Region 4, state 5A champions
HEAD COACH: Quincy Lewis, fifth year
ASSISTANT COACHES: Tom Perkins, Brandon Stoddard, Brendon Dayton, Reed Bromley
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Bracken Funk, 6-foot-7 forward, Sr.; Justin Hamilton, 6-foot-11 center, Sr.; Josh Sharp, 6-foot-7 forward, Sr.; Tyler Haws, 6-foot-5 guard, Jr.NEWCOMERS: Brandon Reeves, 6-foot-3 guard, Jr.; Kimball Payne, 6-foot guard, Sr.; Brian Hale, 6-foot-3 guard, Sr.; Dillon Smith, 6-foot-2 guard, Jr.; Nate Austin, 6-foot-9 center, Jr.
Pleasant Grove Vikings
LAST SEASON: 16-6, third in Region 4
HEAD COACH: Randy McAllister, sixth year
ASSISTANT COACHES: Shawn Faux, Lane Pont, Shannon Gunter
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Craig Tucker, 6-foot-3 guard, Sr.; Adam Nielson, 6-foot-5 center, Sr.; LeSean Wilcox, 5-foot-10 guard, Jr.; C. J. Wilcox, 6-foot-5 guard, Jr.; Brady Thurgood, 6-foot-2 guard, Sr.NEWCOMERS: Jared Allridge, 6-foot-3 forward, Sr.; Andy Schleitwiler, 6-foot-1 forward, Sr.; Lance Adamson, 6-foot-2 guard, Sr.; Sefa Tanoai, 6-foot-3 forward, So.
Spanish Fork Dons
LAST SEASON: 15-8, second in
HEAD COACH: Mark Bailey, 4th year
ASSISTANT COACHES: Mike Gardner, Justin Snell, Jason Stewart, Brad Hales, Zac Taylor
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Dallin Naulu, 5-foot-10 guard/forward, Sr.; Zack Clayton, 6-foot guard, Sr.; Matt Gardner, 6-foot-3 guard, Sr.; Devin Nelson, 6-foot-5 forward, Sr.; Shaun Peterson, 5-foot-9 guard, Sr.NEWCOMERS: Kevin Roberts, 6-foot-4 center, Sr.; Juan Vergara, 6-foot-5 center Sr.; Steven McVey, 6-foot-4 center, Sr.; Breck Lewis, 6-foot-1 guard, Jr.
American Fork Cavemen
LAST SEASON: 14-8, fourth in Region 4
HEAD COACH: Doug Meacham, 5th year
ASSISTANT COACHES: Lynn Anderson, Robert Eckles
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Greg Meacham, 6-foot-1 guard, Sr.; Gentry Haws, 6-foot guard, Jr.; Derek Danklef, 6-foot-1 guard, Sr.; Jake Murphy, 6-foot-4 post, Sr.; Zach Enosa, 6-foot-3, forward, Sr.NEWCOMERS: Taylor Judd, 5-foot-11 guard, Sr.; Taylor Jones, 6-foot-2 guard, Sr.; Ben Beddes, 6-foot-4 center, So.; Josh Mooney, 6-foot-3 forward, Jr.
LAST SEASON: 9-10, fifth in Region 4
HEAD COACH: Clay Anderson, third year
ASSISTANT COACH: Brad Molen
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Skylar Halford, 6-foot guard, Sr.; Colton Willman, 6-foot-1 forward, Sr.; Geoff Ritter, 6-foot-4 forward, Sr.NEWCOMERS: Kegan Blake, 6-foot-5 center, Sr.; Trevor Thomas, 6-foot guard, Jr.; Andrew Eide, 6-foot-5 center, Jr.; Scott McAllister, 6-foot-2 guard, Sr.; Jensen Nelson, 6-foot guard, Jr.; Coburn Bristol, 6-foot-4 forward, Sr.; Joe Kruger, 6-foot-8 center, So.; Parker Brown, 6-foot-3 forward, Jr.
LAST SEASON: 10-12, fifth in Region 7
HEAD COACH: Craig Gladwell, seventh year
ASSISTANT COACHES: Bob Barnes, Otto Carter, Christian Smith
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Josh Swenson, 6-1, guard, Sr.; Egan Asay, 6-1, guard, Sr.; Tyson Henderson, 6-3, forward, Sr.; Corey Smith, 6-0, guard, Jr.NEWCOMERS: Kyle Hinton, 6-6, center, Jr.; Jacob Obioma, 6-3, forward, Jr.; Josh Scott, 6-7, center, So.; Josh Strubell, 6-1, guard, Sr.; Will Walker, 6-6, center, So.; Mua Faleao, 6-1, forward, Jr.
2. Pleasant Grove
3. Spanish Fork
4. American Fork
Deseret Morning News' picks
2. Pleasant Grove
3. Spanish Fork
4. American Fork
Region 7 players to watch
Tyler Haws, Lone Peak
Bracken Funk, Lone Peak
Justin Hamilton, Lone Peak
Craig Tucker, Pleasant Grove
LeSean Wilcox, Pleasant Grove
C. J. Wilcox, Pleasant Grove
Brady Thurgood, Pleasant Grove
Skylar Halford, Timpanogos
Colton Willman, Timpanogos
Will Walker, Lehi
Corey Smith, Lehi
Dallin Naulu, Spanish Fork
Matt Gardner, Spanish Fork
Zack Clayton, Spanish Fork
Kevin Roberts, Spanish Fork
Greg Meacham, American Fork