OGDEN — Two years ago, the Wasatch High School boys basketball team was putting the finishing touches on its second consecutive Utah 3A state championship.
Current Wasatch point guard Jeff Murdock was a freshman that season. His brother McKay, also a point guard, was a senior. McKay has since moved on from Wasatch, with two championship rings in his possession, and now little brother Jeff sits in the midst of a deep playoff run of his own.
Also right in the thick of things is Wasatch forward Ben Pelo. Like Jeff, Pelo was a freshman when the Wasps made their title-winning run in 2011 and had his big brother, Matt Pelo, on the team. Matt was a junior that season and played a pivotal role in Wasatch’s championship.
To be precise, the big brothers combined for 21 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and two assists in the 2011 championship game.
It’s no wonder that head coach Lonnie Magnusson has to feel comfortable now that the once little brothers are on the court, quite literally following in their older brothers' footsteps.
“Oh yeah, I had them both when they were younger guys,” said the coach. “I knew they were going to be a couple of good ones and a lot of that is because their brothers were so good. It’s great to watch them play together now."
Wasatch won its 3A quarterfinal game against favored Spanish Fork on Thursday afternoon, 46-36, with another tremendous team effort. As no single player on the Wasatch roster has dominated game after game, opportunities to shine have been there for both the younger Murdock and Pelo. Murdock, who led his team in scoring with 17 points in Round 1 against Desert Hills, scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and added several assists in Round 2. Pelo, coming in off the bench, also had six points and added nine big rebounds.
The two juniors have stepped up and grasped the chance to lead their team during its recent hot streak. Both attribute their success to their older brothers' success.
“I was filling my brother’s water bottle,” joked Ben, referring to the 2011 championship season. “It was nerve-wracking back then for me as a freshman. I was so scared for the team. Being here now though, I’m totally comfortable. I may have been one of the least nervous guys on our team."
Murdock has similar memories.
“I was on the bench with the team. We were nervous, but it was exciting,” he said. “I learned so much from my brother and that team. I’m probably not realizing it until now." Murdock pointed out the intensity of the older group. “They were so good on defense. They had the ability to feed off of that and win games,” he said.
Being the younger brothers of state champions hasn't been an easy thing to live down. Ben and Jeff, who have been playing basketball together since the fifth grade, are both siblings who have had to endure the tough love that can only be offered by being taught by older brothers.
“I’ve always been pushed by my brothers,” said Ben. “My oldest brother Mike, who played at Wasatch, and Matt have never taken it easy on me. We play each other hard for hours — and to this day. They’ve taught me a lot and I think I’m playing good now because of them.”
Murdock made the comparison of him to his brother: both playing point guard, a main topic. “I think McKay was a better player ... smarter than me. I’m probably more athletic and just let it go,” he added. “I just know I’ve learned a lot about playing the position from him.”
Both Pelo and Murdock realize that to win a championship — like their brothers did together — it takes a total team effort. And Pelo knows to go all the way, the Wasps must stick to what has worked for them all year. "Play tough defense. Take advantage of the opportunities that come your way," Ben said.
“They (the 2011 Wasatch team) played with such intensity,” said Murdock, “that you can’t help but know that works.”
As Wasatch forges on to the 3A semifinals, one can't help but take heed of the words of brothers. After all, nothing speaks like experience.
Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org