By Kurt Johnson
After 12 years as the head boys basketball coach at Lone Peak High School, Quincy Lewis announced in May that he was leaving the Knights to take the open assistant coach position on Dave Rose’s staff at Brigham Young University.
During his dozen seasons at Lone Peak, Lewis’ teams compiled a record of 250-45, won 10 region titles and seven state championships, including a state record four straight from 2011 through 2014. His push to take the Knights to venues all over the country turned Lone Peak into a program with a national presence.
The 2013 Knights were named national champions by MaxPreps at the end of a 26-1 season that included numerous victories against teams from California to Florida and points in between. Lewis was the MaxPreps national coach of the year and Naismith national coach of the year in 2013. In 2009, he was the National Federation of State High School Associations western region coach of the year.
Before taking job at Lone Peak, Lewis coached for eight seasons at the collegiate level with stops at BYU-Hawaii (1995-97), Utah Valley (1997-02) and Southern Utah (2002-03). His playing career began at Timpview High School, where his father was a long-time coach.
Lewis played collegiately for Rose at Dixie College, and after graduating from Dixie, he finished his college career at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. He was inducted into the Wagner College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Later, Coach Lewis earned a master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Utah in 1995. He and his wife of 14 years, Debbie, have two sons, Kodiak and Cooper, and two daughters, Maeve and Mallory.
While at Lone Peak, Lewis coached 22 players who continued on to play college basketball, with more players still on the Knights’ roster still to add to that number. Among those 22 players are a number who preceded him to BYU, including a number who are still part of the Cougar program.
That list includes former Cougars Jackson Emery, Tyler Haws and Josh Sharp, current players Nate Austin and Nick Emery and a pair who are scheduled to return to the Cougars from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the 2016 season – T.J. Haws and Eric Mika.
I sat down with Quincy Lewis at the end of May in his new office inside the BYU Marriott Center to discuss his time at Lone Peak and his decision to take on this new challenge. Here, in Q&A format, is his “exit interview” with Preps Utah.
Kurt Johnson: What do you know about your replacement at Lone Peak, David Evans?
Quincy Lewis: “I’ve gotten to know him a little bit because he was at BYU- Hawaii. I wasn’t there the same time as him, but because we were both there at different times, we got to know each other over the years. He’s a great guy. There was a lot of good guys there to choose from. He’s been at BYU- Hawaii, but he’s been over in Europe a lot.”
KJ: What were your thoughts when you first arrived at Lone Peak High School?
QL: “I wanted to build a program that would be competitive to win the state championship every year. I don’t think there’s ever any way you can say you’re going to win it every year, but you want to be competitive. I wanted to leave the job, whenever I left, better than I found it. I wanted to have an impact on the kids there in the community, a positive impact. I just think that extracurricular activities in general can be that, if they’re done right.”
KJ: Why did you leave college for high school coaching?
QL: “My dad is in the coaching hall of fame in the state. He was at Timpview, so I grew up a high school coach’s son so I always had a little interest there. Honestly, when I was down at SUU, we were going to go do a doctorate at UNLV, that was kind of the plan. At the last minute I ended up calling Lone Peak. Mike May was leaving and I was talking to him about team camp and he said, ‘As a matter of fact Quinc, I resigned last night.’ So we thought about it for a few days and we said ‘Hey, let’s go do this. We can always go do a doctorate.’ So we went for it. I looked at what kind of job it was. Lone Peak had potential to be a really good job. When I got there, they hadn’t made the state tournament. We didn’t have any returning starters. It wasn’t a great situation when we got there other than with the potential of Lone Peak, we felt like that was (a good thing).”
KJ: When did you realize the trajectory the program could have?
QL: “Our first tournament, you could see with the players that we had. None of them had started the year before and in fact, just two of them had even set foot on a varsity floor. I kind of looked at them and said, ‘Am I crazy or I think we have a little bit of talent here to work with. I think we have a few kids.’ We just kept getting better and better that spring and summer, my first spring and summer, and I kind of came out of there going, ‘I think we’re going to be okay.’ I think we came out of there rated like fifth out of six teams in our league, that’s where we were supposed to finish, and we ended up…we started the year 17-0 and we ended up losing to Provo with Wesley in the quarterfinals and they played great. Probably in that spring and summer, I saw, ‘You know what, I think there’s some really good things that can happen here over time.'”
KJ: Who was in that first group of players (2003-2004)?
QL: “There was one big name – Jackson Emery. He was an incoming junior. He had made varsity as a sophomore but did not play one second of varsity basketball his sophomore season. He was just a 6-1 floppy-haired kid. He had longer hair and you wouldn’t even have recognized him. I watched this kid play the first tournament and I was like, ‘I think this guy’s really good.’ He had an explosive temper and you had to pull him out every other game, just sit him out and let him relax. He was so ultra-competitive. But you looked at him and said this guy, he could be a really good player. It was an interesting situation, because supposedly the three best players in that age group had all transferred to American Fork – the Shoff twins and a kid named Brendan Davis. Jackson didn’t even start when all those guys were together. Now he was kind of getting his chance to show what he could do. He was a really good player. Tyler Haws was an incoming seventh grader (that year), so I saw him in our first camp, and Nick (Emery) was a third grader, and he won all the trophies in my first camp that I had. You could kind of see, there were things to work with if all the right things happened.”
KJ: Philosophically, what was the first thing you wanted to do when you took over the program at Lone Peak?
QL: “The most important thing is to have guys that are committed. That doesn’t mean they are basketball-only, that’s not what that means at all. You’ve got the Talon Shumways, the Chase Hansens and all those guys. I want guys committed, which means individual work on your own. The most important thing I could do was have our first camp, and teach all our players how to do an individual workout and what a real individual workout looks like. That was really important, that first building block, and to have guys who are committed to be really good players, whether that means they’re going to be a college player or a really good high school player, or putting in all that time and they’re going to come off the bench at Lone Peak. All of those are good things for a kid, that they’re going to use for the rest of their life, whether they’re going to play in college or not. Having guys become committed and excited about becoming a really good player was a very important part of the program.
“With Jackson (Emery), for instance…After we got done with the whole spring and summer, I met with each guy individually. I met with Jackson and I said ‘Jackson, let’s write some goals down,’ and he said, ‘Okay.’ And I said, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know, you know.’ And I said, ‘Jackson, you’re going to be first team all-state next year.’ And he looked at me like…. He later told me, ‘Coach, I thought you were crazy. I’d never played a minute on a varsity floor.’ I said, ‘Jackson, if you do this workout right here, you’ll come back next fall and I’m telling you, you can be first-team all-state.’ You know what, he did it.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if I believed you or not, but I just went for it.’ It’s funny, we played Timpview the second game of the year. They were rated like 17th in the country and we were the nobodies and that was kind of Jackson’s coming-out party and he had like 25 points and nobody even knew what his name was. He wasn’t on any recruiting services, any of that stuff. He hadn’t been out in the summer. All he did was put in individual work and had 25 in his first game and it just took off from there. He wound up being first-team all-state. That’s what we got kids to do, just buy into what we believed and that was individual work as the basis of it all. Not all the games in the off-season, but individual work. That’s the hardest thing to get kids to do, but you only need a few of them to do it. We got a few, and I thought we made really good progress to be ready to go for the start of that season. Frankly, I was really surprised with how well we did coming out of the gates.”
KJ: Was that the same philosophy that carried you through year-to-year?
QL: “Yes. You really only need two or three guys to really buy in hook, line and sinker to what that is. Then other guys won’t do the whole thing, but they’re going to do this much of it and they’re going to be better than they ever were going to be. I think if you really develop your younger programs, you really shouldn’t have bad years. You can have years that aren’t as good as others for sure, where you don’t have as good players or whatever, but you shouldn’t have just bad years. That’s what we tried to do, at least.”
KJ: What did the less heralded player, the “Zach Framptons” mean to your program?
QL: “Those guys were just invaluable. If I named one, I could name 30 of them. Zach is a great example of a guy who will be a college player, but he’s not what Nick (Emery) or T.J. (Haws) were, but he’s just integral to what we did, not only the year that he won it as a senior, but his junior year, the national championship year, he was the first guy off the bench no matter what, whether it was a big or a guard that came out, he was the first guy in. He probably played 20, 22 minutes a game that year, so he was a really important guy.”
KJ: What stands out most about your 12 years at Lone Peak?
QL: “You hear it all the time, but it’s really true, but it was the relationships I had with my staff and with players, who still come back today and texted me when I got this job, and even the parents. I just developed great life-long relationships. I went out to lunch just yesterday with one of my former player’s father, from first three years of the program. You develop so many great relationships with people out there who are just fantastic. Obviously, you’re always going to remember winning the championships and being in the locker room pouring water all over each other, that’s a great thing, but you also remember the grind of it to earn those things, when you’re in doing open gyms when nobody else is, when you’re putting in the individual work when you know no one else is and you’re putting in the extra hours it’s going to take to be good.”
KJ: What is the state of the program as you leave?
QL: “I think you come in and you have a vision of where you want to go. The first time we ever went out of state to play, we had Jackson Emery and that was a summer thing, and I was so nervous. I was thinking, ‘We’re going to get the socks beat off of us.’ We were playing against these teams out in Orlando and it was kind of a starting point for our program. We ended up doing okay and from there, we just kind of took another step, we took another step, we took another step and each time we went out and did something out of state, it was almost like you built the confidence of the kids in your program to, ‘Hey, we’re good enough to play with anybody.’ So, you have a vision of those kinds of things that maybe you didn’t ever realize could actually happen, like Nike coming in and giving you a contract and now we’ve got these lighted signs around the gym and now we have our sponsorship money. Those things were kind of pipe dreams, but through the process, they kind of manifest themselves.”
KJ: How did your players compare athletically with some of the big-name guys you played out of state, guys like Aaron Gordon?
QL: “I would say that we weren’t bad athletes. Talon Shumway is a phenomenal athlete, so we weren’t bad athletically, but relatively speaking when you go out of the state, we became average. A lot of Utah teams would go out of the state and become below average. We were at least an average team. Maybe, we were so different than anybody that teams played. We ran up and down the floor, we really transitioned and then defensively, we probably played a lot more like a Virginia team, a team that just keeps the ball in front of them and we’re not out denying or getting out of position, we’re not extending defensively. We just kind of kept everything in front of us and make teams shoot jump shots and I think it was really different for a lot of teams we played, for what they were used to seeing at a high level in high school. We were so different that it helped us.
“We shared the ball well. Those guys, what’s so special about them, and really through the whole stretch we were able to get guys to suppress their ego a little bit and just kind of share it, and then really buy into it. What we did defensively was kind of the key to the whole thing. Defensively, I thought we were pretty good.”
KJ: What was it going to take for you to leave Lone Peak?
QL: “A pretty dang good thing. We’d been in college for eight years and the lifestyle was kind of hard, and we were just getting to (where we had) young kids and we just kind of said, ‘I don’t know if this is for us,’ and high school came up and my wife said, ‘You know what, you’ll never live with yourself unless you become a head coach.’ I was kind of ready to go to UNLV, honestly she’s the one, it was her that said, ‘You take it.’ So we decided, ‘Two years. We’ll go to Lone Peak for two years and we’ll see where we’re at after two years.’ But it was never with the intent that we were going to go back to college (to coach). That was never the intent. Then, after the second year, we got offered the head job at Dixie, which was a total surprise. We ended up turning it down. We had a couple of those things through the years, but from our experience in college, we kind of said, ‘The only way we’re going back to college is if we’re either a head coach and call our own shots or we’re an assistant working for somebody that we really, really trust. Because I’ve known Coach Rose for so long – I played for him – he was a guy we really trusted and felt like we could have our family situation and be in college at the same time.
“That was never the thing where we were striving or coaching so we could go to college, that was never the deal. It was really hard for me to leave Lone Peak just to come here, to be honest with you. It was a hard thing, it was kind of pulling teeth a little bit, but this was just a unique opportunity, one that doesn’t coming around very often. It was a Coach Rose thing. It helps that I grew up here in Provo, but the way I grew up, the way my dad was, we loved all the in-state teams. We rooted for Utah State, BYU and Utah. We liked to see all the in-state teams do well. We weren’t died-in-the-wool red for Utah or blue for BYU. We just liked to see them all do well, but we were from Provo, so it was nice to be able to come back here, but having that relationship with Coach Rose and a guy that’s successful like he is, that was a huge part of this thing.”
KJ: What about the timing of this job?
QL: “You’d like to have left on a winning year, winning that last game, but Debbie and I just kind of looked at it. In fact, we felt like this after the national championship year. We felt like we’d done as much as we could do at Lone Peak, and either we were going to get into a different situation like this, or maybe we were going to do something else. Not because anything bad happened at Lone Peak, in fact, everything was great, better than it’s ever been. It was just time for a different challenge and this was it. The timing of it was just perfect for us.”
KJ: What are your thoughts on the politics of high school coaching?
QL: “It’s probably two things. First is you have to establish communication, you have to have clear communication so everybody knows what’s going on, and then winning. Those are the two things. If you don’t have one or the other, it’s going to be tough. To me, you want to be in a place where you have a level of expectation because people are interested in being good.”
KJ: What was the reaction of your Lone Peak players to the announcement?
QL – “We met in the gym and I turned into a big baby, and I’m not a guy who ever cries, and they turned into babies. It was a hard half hour, right there. It was really hard. That was a time when I thought for a minute that maybe I should just stop all this nonsense and just stay right here. Dave Evans is going to do a real good job for them. It (the hiring process) was exhaustive. They interviewed 12, 14 people and it went over two weeks and from what I understand, by the time they were done, they thought Dave was clearly the guy.”
KJ: What’s your take-away from your time at Lone Peak?
QL: “I think the first thing you do is just smile and say, ‘How fortunate was I to be a part of such a special stretch.’ That’s really how I look at it. I went there, it wasn’t great, and obviously it took off and we did great things, but it isn’t just me, it isn’t just Tyler Haws, it isn’t just Nick Emery, it’s so many people moving the right direction and so I really don’t look back and say, ‘I’m really proud of what I accomplished,’ I have to look back and say, ‘I’m really proud of what we all accomplished.’ It took a whole team full of people to do it and, it sounds crazy, but you really need to have administrators who understand the importance and the value of athletics in education. Honestly, not that many of them really understand that. I had three of them and they all got it, they really got it. That doesn’t mean they were giving extra benefits to athletes, it just means they understood what the value is, and they really did. I was really fortunate that way, and they supported it. We would never have been able to go and do these things out of state if we didn’t have people who really understood that value and what that would mean to a community and a school, to the kids. Maybe other administrators would look at that and say, ‘That guy’s crazy’ or maybe, ‘We can’t do that, that’s different.’ So we had people to think outside the box with me because I was kind of an outside-the-box person, with different ideas of how to do things. I was just so dang fortunate to be part of that, so I’m just so thankful to be part of that whole thing.”
KJ: What about your success in taking the kids out of state?
QL: “I think as a program, it really just catapulted us. We had to earn it. We came from the ground up and had to beat people and earn our way to be able to get invites to go to those tournaments. Those aren’t tournaments that you call and just get in. Most of them are all-expense-paid deals and you have to be a legit team that’s proven yourself along the line against some real people to get into those things, so it was a little-by-little thing. That was really important for us, by the time it was over. These last few years, I have multiple tournaments calling me and saying, ‘Yes, we’ll pay for everything if you come,’ because of what the name Lone Peak is out of state. That was never really the goal when I first came to Lone Peak. The goal was to be competitive to win the state championship every year, not have bad years. We are competitive to be able to win every year and it just kind of grew into this. I think for the state, it became a real positive thing. I had a coach, who was a friend, when we were going through that national championship year and he said, ‘Everybody wants to beat you guys, but honestly when you leave this state, with what you guys are doing right now, I’m rooting for you like crazy. You’re representing Utah basketball.’ Utah basketball has had very little respect, really, outside the state for several years and we think we have a pretty good brand of ball here. I really can honestly say, especially during that national championship year, we always felt like this is more than just Lone Peak and we would even talk about it as a team. This is more than just Lone Peak that we’re representing here. We always had a little more motivation, a chip on our shoulder when we played people.
KJ: What are your expectations now that you’re back coaching at the college level?
QL: “We have two new members of our staff. Andrew May is basketball operations. For now, Coach Rose has kind of said ‘Let’s get everybody together, let’s go through a couple months and see where everybody’s going to be the strongest and then that’s where we’ll lean for responsibilities for that person. We also have Spain coming up and so we want to have everything in place for Spain. That will be a good testing ground. Tim LaComb is the associate head coach and he’s more in charge of recruiting and Coach Nashif and I will certainly do some recruiting, but Coach LaComb has more to do with that. As far as offense and defense, those things will be worked out here in the future, but I’m okay with whatever.”
KJ: Any thoughts on coaching your high school guys at BYU?
QL: “Eric’s (Mika) scared to death… No, really those guys are really excited and I am too because I have great relationships with those guys. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m excited to have the existing players, like the Fishers, the Toolsons, the Collinsworths and the Calverts and being able to work with all those guys, and with Seljaas coming in, all those guys. I guess it could be a situation (with the guys from Lone Peak) if I let it, but that’s not the way it’s going to be. Anyway, it’s Coach Rose who decides who plays and things like that.”
KJ: What about adjusting to being an assistant?
QL: “I think with whatever assistant it is, it might be a different thing. I think for what this staff is, it’s maybe just experience. I’ve coached for 20 years now, eight in college at every level, junior college, small college, Division 1 and then high school, so I’ve had a lot of experience and done a lot of things. I’ve worked with big guys, I’ve had guards, I’ve worked with Justin Hamilton, I’ve had Tyler Haws. I think I just bring a guy that has experience doing a lot of different things and maybe can bring a lot of unique or different perspectives. That’s kind of what Coach (Rose) wants. It’s not necessarily that he’s going to use those, or maybe he will use some, but he wants to look at it all and be able to make decisions. I think for him too, was to have good chemistry on his staff. Me knowing Coach and having a trust factor between us, and I’ve known Coach LaComb for a long time as well, so I think it was a good fit that way.”
KJ: Tell me about where we’re at in the trajectory of your career?
QL: “We’re looking at this and we’re both feet in the boat and going full steam ahead and we’ll see where it takes us. I’m fortunate that I’m married to a wife who’s willing to go through some adventures. We’re just excited to be here. They’re redoing the Marriott Center and the new practice facility, and we have a really good team now and great kids coming in, and good kids coming off missions. This is a really exciting time, really, unbiasedly, if you look at it from the outside, you still would have to say this is a very exciting time for BYU basketball, with this group that’s coming in, it’s a good time to be here for sure.”