By Kurt Johnson
Two years ago, the boys varsity basketball roster at Lehi High featured three freshmen. One of them was the team’s No. 2 scorer.
Last year, that player, Frank Jackson had moved out of town, his family relocating to a home within the boundaries of Lone Peak, and Jackson was a sophomore sensation for the Knights as they won their fourth consecutive state championship. The other two players are now key starters for the Pioneers as juniors, and one of them, Tanner Nygren, is one of the state’s top scorers.
It is possible, and in fact likely, that Nygren, now a 6-foot-3 junior guard, has been the beneficiary of additional development as he has stepped up as the leader on this Lehi team. It is equally likely that 6-6 forward Tyson Rupp, the other freshman from that 2012-2013 campaign, has shouldered a bit more of the load than he would have done had Jackson remained in town.
With all of that in mind, and also noting how amazing it has been to watch Jackson flourish into perhaps the state’s best all-around player over the past 1-1/2 seasons with Lone Peak, I couldn’t help but wonder Friday night what might have been.
I doubt that I was the only one in the gym at Lone Peak as the Knights and Pioneers faced off in an early-season Region 4 battle who had that thought at least momentarily come to mind.
The current Lehi roster features not only Nygren, but also a super-talented sophomore in 6-2 guard Marcus Draney, along with a lot of other nice pieces, but what if Jackson was still there? How would coach Bob Barnes have fit together his line-up with those two guards and the 6-3 junior Jackson? How hard would that team be to defend?
Presently, Jackson (27 points per game) and Nygren (25.5) are among the top five scorers statewide. It’s hard to imagine that those eye-popping numbers would be what they are with both of them on the same team, but what would they be? And Draney scores more than 17 per night as well.
The game Friday was a lot of fun, as Nygren delivered Lehi with a hot start and scored 18 points before intermission, countered by Jackson’s 21 the other way. The Knights pulled away a couple of times in the second half, and it was Draney who picked up the pace for the Pioneers, as Nygren battled foul trouble. Lehi closed the gap more than once as well, most notably when Draney led an 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough and Lone Peak claimed an 84-72 win.
Jackson finished the night with 41 points, while Nygren scored 28 and Draney 27. It is certainly enough to watch all three of them do their thing, with Jackson now joined by his own sophomore sidekick, Christian Popoola, but that didn’t keep me, just for a moment, from wondering “what if…?”