Prep basketball: Bountiful Braves come up short but have much to savor
The end may not have been what the Bountiful boys basketball team wanted, but it doesn't diminish the story.
The Braves fought Orem to a standoff through three quarters in the Class 5A semifinals, but faded down the stretch. While the Tigers celebrated their ticket to the finals and an eventual title, the Braves let it all sink in.
The team recalled a regular-season championship in which Bountiful went undefeated in Region 6 as coach Mike Maxwell gave a speech that characterized his philosophy from the beginning. He asked the team to come back and visit, to cheer future teams on, and to make sure to remember him for wedding invites. While winning is important, the relationship is what lasts. For a team to play as cohesively as the Braves did this year, there had to be underlying respect and trust in their coaches and their teammates.
"I couldn't be more blessed," senior Brock Yates said. "Sportswise, five of us seniors, me, Brandon [Yates], Dain [Murdock], Tommy [Lalli], and Brit [Harding] have been playing together since we were 12. It was cool to soak it all in and be at the state tournament together to grow up and experience it all together."
Yates and his twin brother, Brandon, gained more than fundamentals from their time at Bountiful. Their father passed away going into their sophomore year after a heart attack. He was a mentor and coach, a bond formed on the hardwood since they were old enough to dribble a ball.
The brothers found solace on the court, and understanding figures in Maxwell and assistant coach Gary Seljaas.
"Coach Maxwell took me in and was more than just a coach to me him and Coach Seljaas," Brock Yates said. "They both mean a lot more to me than just coaches. They're more like father figures to me."
As juniors, they contributed to a team that went to the state finals. The 10-0 regular season was also the first time a Bountiful team has gone undefeated an amazing feat considering the strength of teams like Highland, Woods Cross, and East.
The group has left the program in better shape. The legacy is expected to continue, with sophomore guard Sam Merrill, a starter this year, and Zach Seljaas, a 6-foot-5 freshman, who will continue to grow.
"I feel like they'll always be good," Brandon Yates said. "A lot of younger kids got playing time, so I'm sure they'll take that experience and have a pretty good season."
While players come and go, the one consistency at Bountiful remains: Maxwell and his staff.
"It's been an honor to play at Bountiful," Brandon added. "Maxwell is one of the best coaches in the state of Utah. [He] and coach Seljaas have always been there for us, on and off the court. The reason it's a great program is that you know they care first and want to win second."
Bountiful had only two loses in the regular season, an overtime loss to Region 2 champion Viewmont and a three point defeat to 4A runner-up Olympus.
In three seasons, the senior class finished with a record of 56-16.
Sam Merrill and Zach Seljaas were both starters as underclassmen for the Braves. Merrill averaged 6.83 points per game while Seljaas contributed 4.65 as a freshman.