Bob Hunter, NJCAA
SLCC Bruins win the 2016 NJCAA Men's Division I National Championship against Hutchinson on their home court in Hutchinson, Kansas. Credit: Bob Hunter for the NJCAA

No one picked them when filling out a bracket for the office pool. That’s because the Salt Lake Community College Bruins were competing in the NJCAA tournament, where the best of the junior colleges play.

But the Bruins, ranked 13th going into the tournament, won it all Saturday as they defeated Hutchinson Community College, in Kansas, 74-64. That makes the team the most successful college basketball squad in Utah this season, even if many of the state’s fans weren’t aware of it.

National championships are rare in this state. They are not so rare at Salt Lake Community College, however. The Bruins similarly went all the way in 2009.

Community colleges can get lost in metro areas where many Division 1 teams compete. In this case, that’s too bad, because the Bruins consistently know how to play, and how to win.

Utah is a basketball crazed state, a fact that often gets overlooked nationally. To put it in perspective, the combined paid attendance last season at all games played by the Utah Jazz and the six Division 1 teams in the state added to 1,523,254, which equates to roughly half the state’s population. People here appreciate the differences between defensive schemes, just as they can spot a good pick-and-roll a mile away. What they need to do now is ask their smartphone apps for directions to SLCC home games, where they will see some of the best ball in the state.

The Bruins didn’t just win on Saturday. They dominated for much of the game, leading by 18 points at one point. They held off a late rally to secure victory.

The team was led by Conner Toolson, whose pedigree is familiar to many fans of the game. Not only did he play on a Lone Peak High School team many felt was the best in the nation, he is the son of Andy Toolson, who had an outstanding career at BYU in the 1980s, followed by two stints with the Jazz and a successful career in Europe.

Conner Toolson was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Congratulations are due each member of the team as well as head coach Todd Phillips, who was named the outstanding coach of the tournament. The state has every reason to be proud of the Bruins for this great accomplishment.