When asked about Garner Meads' superb play so far this season, Brighton boys basketball coach Jim Jimas chuckled and replied by saying: "I'm sure glad he's on my team."

College coaches Steve Cleveland (BYU), Rick Majerus (Utah) and Mike Montgomery (Stanford) desperately hope they can say the same thing come next year — or at least when Meads returns from his planned LDS mission in a few years.

With all the advanced hype — on local and national levels — and based on his stellar performance as a senior, it's hardly a surprise Meads is the frontrunner to be named Mr. Basketball by the Deseret News this spring.

Of course, that's not to say he's the only runner in the race for the state's most prestigious basketball honor as we hit the season's halfway mark.

Talent is, after all, in no short supply in this the "Year of the Big Man" in Utah.

"There's a ton of great big guys this year," said one local college scout.

The Beehive State's three best big boys, in fact, have been hand-picked as candidates for the elite McDonald's All-American Team.

Meads and his injured Brighton teammate, Jesse Pinegar, and Cottonwood's Derek Dawes are included on the first ballot for the national all-star squad. Over 1,800 players were originally selected, and from that list a consensus Top 125 was chosen by Rivals.com hoops analysts. The teams (10-man squads for East and West) will be finalized next month.

Only four Utah high school basketball players have been honored as McDonald's All-Americans since its inception in 1977 — Danny Vranes (Skyline, '77), Devin Durrant (Provo, '78), Shawn Bradley (Emery, '90) and Britton Johnsen (Murray, '97).

Here's a look at some of the top candidates for Utah's Mr. Basketball award. Keep in mind, the list could change depending on who gets hot down the stretch (Brandon Moore from Hunter last year comes to mind).

GARNER MEADS, Brighton: The 6-foot-9 senior, who is ranked as the No. 1 power forward in the West by PacWest Hoops, is averaging about 24 points and eight rebounds a contest for the Bengals.

"Some folks compare Garner to (Stanford All-American candidate) Mark Madsen," said recruiting expert Mike Miller of PacWest Hoops, "but Garner is quicker, more athletic and considerably more skilled than Mark was at the same stage in their high school careers and will likely be a better player in college."

Meads has been named a Top 25 player in the nation by many media outlets, including the USA Today and by recruiting guru Bob Gibbons.

MARC JACKSON, Olympus: There's a reason why Majerus offered the Titans' terrific point guard a scholarship — he's incredibly good. Of all the great point guards in the state this season, "MJ" has come on the strongest. He was more than sensational during his 51-point outing he had against Skyline.

And for the most part this year, Jackson, a strong 6-2 playmaker, has shot the lights out while helping Oly maintain its top billing in 4A. His scoring average, which is a tad under 30 per game, is the best in the state. He combines an improved outside touch with an uncanny ability to drive on bigger guys.

DEREK DAWES, Cottonwood: The outcome of last Saturday's BYU-Utah game very well could have been swayed the other way had the Colts' 6-10 center suited for his future college club, BYU. His play has led Cottonwood to an 11-0 record and a No. 2 ranking in 5A.

Dawes, ranked among the country's Top 75 players in Gibbons' All-Star Report, has turned himself into a force down low on offense and defense. He is averaging about 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks a contest.

Al Seibert of Heartland Hoops describes Dawes as being "a very good shooter who can square up and shoot it from the perimeter. He also has a good frame with with to tussle in the paint and he can score down low."

JASON BAKER, Bingham: The Miners' crafty guard, who can play point and shooting guard, is a heady player who is still being looked at by the University of Utah (despite Jackson's verbal), Utah State and Navy, among others.

Baker scores around 18 points a game, a number that could be much higher if he wasn't so darn good at distributing the ball about to his teammates. Pac-West Hoops lists him as one of their Top 50 guards.

JACOB CHRISMAN, Provo: For the third year in a row, the 6-9 Chrisman is a power in the paint for the Bulldogs. The BYU-bound basketball/baseball player, who has a 90-plus-mile-her-hour fastball, is scoring 20 points a game. He simply has the ability to take games over.

"Jake is a superior athlete, with quickness and hops, who can really shoot it and handle the ball well," said Tracy Pierson of PacWest Hoops.

MIKE HIGGINS, Bingham: The Miners' 6-8 post player has already committed to play for the Naval Academy and should receive his appointment anytime now. He's averaging 16 points, three assists and a couple of blocks.

"Higgins is a player who can step out and face the basket and can do some dirty work in the middle," said Mike Sullivan of Insiders Hoop.

GOLDEN INGLE, Timpanogos: When he's on — and that's more often than not — the Timberwolves' star is as good a shooter as there is in the state. He is averaging about 23 points and five-plus assists a contest. Coach Mark Hardman calls him "a coach on the floor."