SALT LAKE CITY — They scored, they rebounded, they defended and realistically did whatever else was necessary for their teams to be successful. That consistency from the 2018-2019 Deseret News high school boys basketball MVPs is what ultimately push their teams over the top to claim state championships.
Here’s a list of this year’s MVPs as picked by the Deseret News with input from the state’s coaches. The first-, second-, and third-team selections were voted on by the coaches:
6A MVP: Tanner Cuff, American Fork
Described by many coaches as the missing piece to American Fork’s puzzle, Tanner Cuff was the ultimate difference-maker this season as the school snapped a 40-year state title drought.
After transferring to American Fork from Dixie this season when his father Ryan Cuff took the head coaching job, Tanner Cuff provided the consistency his team needed night after night during an impressive 24-3 state championship season.
Without the Cuffs the year before, American Fork missed the playoffs with an 11-13 record.
Cuff finished second on American Fork in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg) and first in assists (5.6 apg) and steals (1.7 spg).
As the games got tougher, Cuff actually played even better. During American Fork’s 11 combined region and state tournament games, Cuff increased his production in all four statistical categories, including 3 more points per game and two more assists.
“Tanner simply made everybody around him better. As a 6-foot-5 point guard, Tanner created a very difficult matchup challenge for opponents in that he could hurt you from both inside and outside, but it was his basketball IQ that really set him apart as a player,” said one Region 4 coach.
His performance in American Fork’s 82-80 triple overtime win over Davis in the semifinals will be talked about for years to come.
Cuff scored 17 of American Fork’s 19 points in the three overtimes, including the game-winning bucket with 1.2 seconds remaining. Everything he did in the last two overtimes came with American Fork’s four other starters fouled out on the bench.
“For him to be able to have arms put around him and accept him, and then for him to be able to do some of those things for his teammates … it’s why we do what we do. … You live for these moments,” said Ryan Cuff after that semifinal game.
American Fork’s coach didn’t want to single out his own son and said the entire American Fork team earns a piece of the MVP award, even the four JV kids who helped Tanner Cuff edge Davis in that epic semifinal game.
5A MVP: Gabe Toombs, Corner Canyon
Corner Canyon’s most consistent player during last season’s runner-up campaign, Gabe Toombs managed to take his game to an even higher level during for his senior season.
Toombs increased his scoring by 5 points per gamd, improved his rebounding, steals and assists and was the catalyst as the Chargers got over the hump to claim the first basketball championship in school history.
“Offensively, Gabe came out every night and we knew exactly what we going to get from him. He was a tough matchup for whoever we played,” said Corner Canyon coach Dan Lunt about his strong 6-foot-4 guard/forward.
Toombs finished the season averaging 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals.
“He just works on his game all the time,” said Lunt about Toombs’ big jump in production this year. “He’s matured and been around the game more. He obviously developed mentally and knows his strengths and weaknesses, and he also knows the strengths and weaknesses of the people he’s playing against and puts himself in a position to be successful.”
Toombs was at his best in a fantastic state tournament. He scored 20 points in each of the first two rounds, and then dominated the paint against tournament favorite Olympus in the semifinals, scoring 29 points.
Lunt praised Toombs and his entire team for staying patient with the game plan against Olympus, mature execution that was a couple years in the making.
“Gabe made a big difference in the second half, and they didn’t have an answer for him inside or out. The majority of it came in the paint and we felt we had a huge advantage there,” Lunt said.
In the state championship the following night, he recorded his second double-double of the state tournament to spearhead a dominant second half.
4A MVP: Mason Falslev, Sky View
Mason Falslev wants to win, plain and simple.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a drill in practice, a game, whatever it is, he wants to compete and win,” said Sky View coach Kirk Hillyard.
So you can imagine Falslev’s frustration this season as his team kept losing close game after close game. In fact, the Bobcats posted a miserable 0-7 record in games decided by one possession, a big contributor to a surprisingly disappointing 12-9 regular season.
Falslev still filled up the stat sheet despite the losses, but when the 4A playoffs finally rolled around he seemed to spearhead an enough-is-enough mentality that permeated throughout the team.
With Falslev leading the way at both ends of the floor, Sky View marched through a juggernaut of 4A opponents to claim the unlikely state championship. It started with a win over No. 1 Juan Diego in the first round, and after that Dixie, Payson and Bear River all fell.
“His length and athleticism on defense created a lot of trouble for Juan Diego and some of the other teams. It was a good time for the team to come together,” Hillyard said. “We knew we could play with Juan Diego and that kind of built our confidence, and they kind of took from there.”
The junior finished the regular season averaging 24.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.1 steals.
In three of Sky View’s four playoff wins, he was held well under his scoring average, but Hillyard credits his star player for not pressing and making an impact in other areas.
“He just opens it up so much for other people because defenses have to key on him,” said Hillyard, who added that Falslev was also Sky View’s best defender and drew difficult defensive assignments each night as well.
Offensively, he could score with the best players in the state, as evidenced by the fact he eclipsed 30 points on six occasions, including a 35-point night in the 4A semifinals against Payson when he knocked down six 3-pointers.
3A MVP: Trey Miles, Morgan
With a partisan Richfield crowd at the Sevier Valley Center trying to will the Wildcats back in the game, nerves were naturally starting to build for Morgan’s young, but extremely important players.
With a couple simple words, Morgan senior Trey Miles calmed everyone down as his team eventually pulled away to claim the 3A state championship.
“Trey was on the bench and he just said (with a) smile, 'Let’s just go get this,'” said Morgan coach Brad Matthews.
It was a subtle message, but it exemplified just how important Miles was to Morgan’s team this season in more than just the box score.
Morgan had the talent to win it all the year, but Matthews said the calming presence within the team was lacking.
“Trey really stood up and was that leader that we really needed for the whole team. He did it with his play, his mental preparation. Everything,” said Matthews.
He did it on the scoreboard as well, finishing the season averaging 16.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.4 steals. In the semifinals, he scored 21 points, and in the championship against Richfield, he scored 24.
Matthews credits Miles and his relentless preparation for all of his success.
“He’s not oversized and he’s not that overly fast, but he has a motor in him that doesn’t stop. He puts in a lot of practice time so that when he gets in the game, it’s just natural. He doesn’t have to try to be good — he’s good,” said Matthews.
Morgan’s coach said Miles probably scored about half his points at the rim this season because of his aggression and understanding of the game.
2A MVP: Lino Saez, Layton Christian
As Parowan spread the floor and slowed the game in the 2A championship, Layton Christian’s coaches could sense that speeding up the game and going with a smaller lineup would be the key.
It also meant sending Layton Christian’s best player, 6-foot-7 center Lino Saez, to the bench for stretches. Saez never complained because on that night, the only that mattered was winning.
“He is the humblest young man I have ever met,” said Layton Christian coach Bobby Porter.
It was the only night all season that Saez took a back seat for Layton Christian during his dominant senior season. He averaged 19.4 points and 11.4 rebounds to help Layton Christian end the season on a 16-game winning streak.
Defensively, his presence in the paint allowed Layton Christian’s guards to flourish with their pressing defense knowing the 6-foot-7 center was behind them.
Offensively, he could score in a variety of ways which added to his versatility.
“His positive attitude makes a coach love coming to practice. (He's) an extremely hard worker who brings incredible energy to the floor every day,” said Porter. “He can run like a gazelle, handle the ball and pass like a guard, shoot the 3 with the best of them, rebound and throw an outlet like Kevin Love, able to use his right and left hand around the basket.”
One of his biggest games of the season came in Layton Christian’s final preseason game against eventual 3A state champion Morgan. Saez recorded 28 points and 14 rebounds to spearhead the 19-point win.
After that, Saez helped Layton Christian steamroll 2A competition for the school’s second state title in the past two years.
1A MVP: Wyatt Fabrizio, Tabiona
Wyatt Fabrizio did a bit everything this season for state champion Tabiona and was the quintessential Swiss Army knife player that every coach loves to have.
He ranked in the top three in every statistical category for Tabiona, including leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game as he was the catalyst to halting a two-decade state title drought.
“Wyatt was steady all year. He had some big plays for us all year. He was just so steady all the time you could count on him for double figures every night,” said Tabiona coach Lee Gines.
At 6-foot-3, Fabrizio could post up smaller guys when opposing defenses went small, but if teams tried to match him up with a big he could shoot the 3 or attack the paint.3 comments on this story
Said one 1A coach, “He had the ability to shoot the spot-up 3, attack the rim and hit the pull-up mid-range shot, and being able to score from all three of these facets of the game made him one of the hardest players to guard that we faced all year.”
Defensively, that same versatility allowed him to guard anyone on the floor.
He raised the intensity on both ends of the floor in the state tournament.
“We had some close losses down the stretch and I think that made him even more determined at the state tournament not to have those losses again,” said Gines.