Kristin Murphy, Deseret News archives
Morgan Hesleph practices with Utah Pump-N-Run at Highland High School in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 19, 2010.

Summer is generally considered the offseason for basketball fans, but there’s plenty of good basketball being played at AAU tournaments across the country.

Utah-based AAU teams have shown well early on, particularly two stacked teams: Utah Pump-N-Run and Utah Reign. Although Pump-N-Run and Reign have enjoyed similar success, the way the teams were formed and where they play differs significantly.

Utah Pump-N-Run was formed in 2003 and attempts to provide players with the opportunity to develop their own skills and to compete against top regional and national talent every summer.

Before local basketball players Brandon Davies, Charles Abouo, Chris Miles, Brian Green, Chris Collinsworth, Kyle Collinsworth, Raul Delgado and Jordan Loveridge signed with Division 1 programs, they all first passed through the Utah Pump-N-Run AAU basketball program.

Utah Pump-N-Run is part of the national Double Pump AAU circuit and competes primarily in Double Pump tournaments held in Las Vegas and Southern California. Those tournaments are a huge deal for players and for coaches looking to fill their rosters with the best talent available. As a result, it’s not unusual for the top Utah AAU teams to see top Division 1 coaches at most of the games they play over the summer.

There are around 14 separate Utah Pump-N-Run teams according to Todd Phillips, who coaches the top under-17 team. Phillips, like most AAU coaches, has a full-time job coaching elsewhere during the season but feels coaching AAU ball in the offseason is imperative.

“AAU ball is obviously for the players, but for coaches, it’s a huge resource for us as well,” said Phillips, who is the head coach of Salt Lake Community College. “It gives me a great chance to not only get to know the best kids here in Utah, but most of the best players in our regions, so it’s a big resource in that way.”

Phillips has been involved with Utah Pump-N-Run in some capacity for awhile now, but just recently was named the head coach of the organization’s top team. As is the norm, the under-17 premier team is stocked with top-flight talent such as Orem’s Zach Hunsaker, Riverton’s Stephan Holm, Kearns’ Dayon Goodman and Sky View’s Casey Oliverson, among others.

Phillips’ team recently competed in the Double Pump Spring Classic held in Las Vegas, which was attended by almost every top regional Division 1 coach. Several of Phillips’ players caught the notice of coaches, particularly 6-foot-3 guard Holm and 6-foot-8 forward/center Oliverson.

“Stephan now has USC and Nevada interested and he’s played real well for us,” said Philliips. “Casey Oliverson is someone who is really starting to develop and get good and he’s going to get a lot of attention — he already has received some good attention.”

The under-16 team appears to be at least as stacked as the U-17 team with players such as Orem’s Dalton Nixon (6-7, forward), American Fork’s Ryan Andrus (6-9, center), and Bonneville, Idaho's Jared Stutzman (6-5, guard). Utah State has taken particular interest in the U-16 team, extending early offers to Nixon, Andrus and Stutzman.

So how does a player become part of a prestigious AAU program such as Utah Pump-N-Run? According to Phillips it’s up to each individual coach on how their respective teams are formed. Tryouts are often held while some other teams are formed just by invitation. In general, teams are made up largely on a regional basis.

Utah Reign, meanwhile, is basically the summer version of the Lone Peak basketball team. Coach Quincy Lewis has elected to use the entire summer to prep his varsity team for the coming season playing in top AAU tournaments around the country.

The dividends to taking this approach would seem obvious, given the Knights' two straight 5A championships.

“It helps us a ton and I don’t think we’d play as well during the season without all the practice we get in the summer,” said Nick Emery, who has participated with Utah Reign since entering Lone Peak’s varsity program. “It allows us to play some very good competition and get some great experience before the season even starts.”

Utah Reign made big waves late last month at the Under Armour Philly Jam Fest, going undefeated until its final game where a slow start ultimately did the team in. During the tournament Reign faced some fierce competition and a different brand of basketball.

“It’s a lot more physical and teams are a lot quicker than what we usually go up against in state,” said Emery. “It was a fun challenge for us and it’s fun to represent the state of Utah because I don’t think a lot of the teams really think much of a bunch of kids playing on a team from Utah. It’s fun to go out there and play well and really surprise a lot of the teams.”

Emery definitely took a lead role in leading Utah Reign to its success during the tournament along with 5A tournament MVP and fellow BYU commit TJ Haws, but it was an added player who really turned some heads, according to Emery.

“Eric Mika really had a great tournament and he’s really becoming a great basketball player,” said Emery. “He didn’t get to play for Lone Peak last year, but he’s one of the best skilled big guys I’ve ever played with or seen play. He really helped us in Philadelphia.”

Mika is a 6-foot-8 forward who played the role of water boy for Lone Peak last season, having to sit out because the Utah High School Activities Association ruled him ineligible after he transferred from Waterford. Mika, who is also committed to BYU, will be eligible for the Knights this coming season and will add significantly to an already stacked team.

The next set of regional tournaments for Utah Pump-N-Run and others will occur in July, which not coincidentally runs congruent to the so-called “evaluation period” for college coaches. Utah Reign, on the other hand, will take part in its own tournament at Lone Peak High School this coming weekend while playing in future tournaments back east during those evaluation periods.

“That’s obviously one of the big benefits of competing in AAU basketball — getting in front of major college coaches and showing them what you can do,” said Phillips. “It’s been a great opportunity for me being part of Utah Pump-N-Run and something that I just love doing. I love having the opportunity to help kids reach their potential — it’s why I’m a coach.”

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BrandonCGurney