Prep boys' basketball: Lone Peak, Orem the best competition for each other
Highland • It takes only a second for the Lone Peak basketball team to switch gears from one drill to the next. Coach Quincy Lewis likes a brisk pace.
The Knights have the fluidity and rhythm of a small-college team. And they'll have the schedule to match this season, which tips off Tuesday.
"It's crazy," senior guard Nick Emery said. "It's kind of unbelievable all the places we're going. Not a lot of Utah teams have the opportunity to face that kind of competition."
The Knights, who are ranked in the national top 10 by several preseason polls, will go to four states Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin and Massachusetts in an effort to prove how good they are. They certainly have the talent, led by the triumvirate of future BYU players Emery, T.J. Haws and Eric Mika, all of whom are top-100 recruits nationally in their respective classes. It's a season, folks in the Lone Peak program say, the team has been building to for several years.
The real question is this: Can any Utah team beat the two-time defending state champs?
Only 11 miles down the road, Orem would venture to say yes. It's a feat the Tigers accomplished only last season, shocking the state at the time.
"We're excited to see them again," Orem junior forward Dalton Nixon said. "Beating them gave us a lot of confidence last year."
The Tigers' upset of Lone Peak last year was a steppingstone onto bigger things, culminating in the Class 4A state title. With four of their starters returning, Orem has stepped up from contender to favorite, just like the Knights in 5A.
In-state, their best competition just might be each other. They'll see Dec. 8.
"We try to think about the next game, but it's obviously been in our heads since last year," Emery said. "We all know each other, and we respect each other. It's a big game for all of us."
The roots between the programs run deep: Emery and Haws played for Golden Holt before he was coaching at Orem. Many of the players know each other from childhood as well, sculpting a passionate rivalry that goes deeper than jerseys.
Starting Orem guard Quinn Peters used to play at Lone Peak. Nixon also is committed to BYU, in the same class as Haws.
Some of the similarities between the schools and their aspirations are intentional: Holt says he's working to mold a program in Lone Peak's image.
It's what drives the program to host the Great Western Shootout to see a better class of competition. And like the Knights last season, the Tigers will travel out to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the Beach Ball Classic.
"If anybody doesn't at least try to follow in Quincy's footsteps, they're not very smart," Holt said. "I just try to learn all I can from everyone else, and Lone Peak is a great example of what you can accomplish. That's why we try to play the best teams we can."
Lone Peak-Orem should be the top early in-state contest, but there's good reason to think it could swing differently than last season. A year after sitting out for a transfer and serving as the state's tallest team manager, the 6-foot-9 Mika has cemented his reputation as one of the country's top centers by tearing up the summer circuit. He'll be hard to deal with in the middle for any opponent.
Orem has a tough lineup itself, starting with frontcourt mates Nixon and Jordan Darger. Zach Hunsaker, Cooper Holt and Peters provide a gritty combination of shooters and slashers. The Tigers' biggest struggle might be avoiding injuries.
In that Saturday night contest, there could be some major fireworks. And the meetings between the two could go that way for years to come.
"They have a good program and we have a good program," Haws said. "I think it could be tough to play them for a while."
Top players to watch in 2012-13
Dalton Nixon, jr., Orem • Future BYU wing who can move in the post or step outside for shots
Eric Mika, sr., Lone Peak • Sat out last year, but looking like a potential double-double every night
Nick Emery, sr, Lone Peak • One of the nation's best shooters and leader of the state's top team
Parker Van Dyke, sr., East • A multifaceted scorer who can take over games for the Leopards
Brandon Miller, sr., Brighton • Utes signee who led the Bengals to the finals last year
Sam Merrill, jr., Bountiful • Shooting guard who becomes maybe the Braves' top threat
Stephan Holm, sr., Riverton • Athletic forward helped key a Cinderella run for the Silverwolves
Ryan Andrus, jr., American Fork • Big man takes over as top option in the post for the Cavemen
Jalen Moore, sr., Sky View • Height of a forward but skills of a guard make him lethal
Brekkott Chapman, jr., Roy • Center has blossomed in AAU ball and might be a postseason factor