By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kevin McInnis
If last year’s 5A state tournament taught us nothing else, it showed that what we think we know is not always accurate. As the “favorites” melted away, Layton, the red hot team late in the season, carried its run right through the playoffs and captured the big trophy.
Is there a “Layton” in 2016? Could it be the Lancers themselves once again? Or could it be someone like Lehi? Or, will the 5A heavyweights carry the day and set up a highly anticipated Lone Peak vs. Bingham state finale come Saturday afternoon?
The Miners and Knights enter the tournament as the favorites.
Bingham features 6-foot-8, BYU-bound big man Yoeli Childs. If it was just Childs, the Miners would be dangerous because no one in the state has the combination of size and athletic ability to match him down low.
The addition of 6-6 junior wing Samuta Avea, who moved in from Hawaii, makes Bingham even more dangerous. Avea is a freakishly amazing athlete who might be Childs’ equal as a rebounder. When you add in Dason Youngblood and Lleyton Parker as fierce perimeter defenders and opportunistic scorers, along with the underrated presence of forward Schlyer Shoemaker and some great athletes on the bench, this team will be a tough out.
Lone Peak has the state’s most dynamic player in Frank Jackson. In fact, future Duke Blue Devil Jackson is one of the nation’s most talented seniors. He is the kind of player who could go off for 50 any given game, but this team is best when he scores in the 20s and they get quality contributions from a lot of solid guys around him.
A pair of 6-4 forwards – junior Nate Harkness and senior Chad Pollard – join with 6-5 sophomore Jackson Brinkerhoff to make up the “frontcourt” for the Knights, but this is a perimeter oriented team that gets after it on defense. Steven Ashworth joins the group of outstanding perimeter shooters, and he is also a feisty defender, along with Tyson Doman and Talmage Gunther.
A Strong Field
Injuries could be a major factor in this year’s tournament. Brighton has been playing without Simi Fehoko and the Bengals are not the same team when he is not in there. The biggest hit came on the last Friday night of play in the regular season, when American Fork lost Brendan Bailey to a broken hand. That leaves a lot of pressure on Spencer Johnson and the rest of the Cavemen, a team that would have been among the favorites.
Weber, led by guard Grant Ellison, has flown under the radar most of the season, so the state tournament is its time to step out into the spotlight. Ellison hit six 3-pointers in consecutive games late in the season and this is a team poised for a possible deep tournament run.
Copper Hills lost to Bingham twice in Region 3 play, but the Grizzlies own a win over the Miners from the championship game of the preseason Elite 8 tournament. Preston Sanchez, Charlie Olsen and company have lost just three times and are certainly a team that will not go quietly.
Then there’s the defending champions. Layton struggled some during its preseason slate, playing without injured point guard Julian Blackmon. With his return and a ton of talent around him, this team could be in for another long week.
Then, there’s those other two teams from Region 4. Brody Childs and Pleasant Grove or Westlake, led by Asa McCord and Maizen Fausett could be dangerous for an early-round upsets, and beyond that, who knows?
On the 4A side, it is once again hard to get a read. Led by BYU signee Gavin Baxter, Timpview looks like the favorite, but the T-Birds lean heavily on the three-point shot at times, and that can be dangerous if the shooters go cold at the wrong time.
Brayden Johnson and Corner Canyon knocked off Timpview late in the season, but also had some surprising let-downs during the year. The Chargers will be in the mix as well.
Region 6 would appear to provide some strong competition for the state title, with Olympus having to be considered one of the favorites. The Titans are balanced and can do a little bit of everything, both inside and out.
AJ Hodges, James Walljasper and Murray nearly pulled the upset of the tourney last year when the Spartans had eventual state champion Bountiful on the ropes in Round 1. Size is the issue for Murray, another team that makes its living mostly from the perimeter, but the Spartans have the talent to stay in this thing right to the end.
The darlings of 2015, Kearns, have reloaded this year, and there have been ups and downs along the way, but Dan Cosby’s group has the talent to make another deep tournament run. You know the Cougars will get after it at the defensive end and their quickness will cause issues.
Kade Poulsen and Maple Mountain, along with Woods Cross, led by one of the state’s deadliest long-range shooters, Trevin Knell, are also teams that have the ability to get hot and make a run at this thing. The bottom line in 4A is unpredictability and it will be a great tournament to watch.