Prep basketball: Stars who grew as one now shining as one
A Category 4 hurricane ripped across the earth outside their Orlando, Fla., hotel. Hunkered down inside was a group of second- and third-graders from Utah, a group that ventured east to do what they love the most:
It's difficult to imagine the sight: Parker Van Dyke, Brandon Miller, Nick Emery and TJ Haws, all future Division I recruits, sleeping in the hallway of their hotel as Hurricane Charley a storm that eventually would cost an estimated $15 billion in damages in early August 2004 produced crushing 150-mph winds overhead.
"We were down in the middle of the hotel watching this hurricane fly over us," said Orem coach Golden Holt, who, along with Derk Pardoe, started a club team that had a handful of eventual high school stars.
"It was the first time we ever played at AAU nationals," Pardoe said. "It was fun."
This group of Utah high school basketball players doesn't exactly produce hurricane-force winds, but they have taken the state and at times the nation by storm.
Basketball fans in the state know about Lone Peak and the reputation Emery, Haws and center Eric Mika all BYU commits have continued developing in Highland. Toss in East's Van Dyke and Brighton's Miller as future Pac-12 guards at the University of Utah, and you have the first of many talented players being churned out to the D-I level over the next couple of years.
"I think it's a cycle," Salt Lake Community College and Utah Pump-N-Run coach Todd Phillips said. "It's amazing."
The 2013 and 2014 classes are as versatile in talent as they are deep in various positions and feature more than your archetypal 6-foot-tall long-range shooters.
"I think the versatility to these kids is what really complements them," Phillips said. "They can do multiple things."
Orem forward Dalton Nixon, a 6-foot-7 16-year-old BYU commit, can stretch the floor from outside and bang down low. Sky View senior forward Jalen Moore, who is committed to Utah State, is, as Phillips said, "an absolute steal" for the Aggies, adding that his athletic 6-7 build is "Pac-12-level." Bountiful junior guard Sam Merrill, also a USU commit, can light up even the best of teams, as evidenced by his domination of Van Dyke's East team earlier this week.
And then there is Brekkott Chapman. At 6-8 and growing, he is a lanky guard/forward for the Roy Royals who has athleticism, speed and outside shooting that has a number of Pac-12 schools drooling and already offering scholarships.
To Lynn Lloyd, who coaches Chapman, Nixon, Merrill and Davis guard Abel Porter, his explanation for why this group of players is so rare to Utah is that it has an old-school work ethic to go with a talent level not usually seen here.
"These kids go play after practice," said Lloyd, who coaches the Utah Prospects team. "They don't want to play video games. They want to work on their skills. I know they're in a gym somewhere."
Reggie Rankin, a scout for ESPN.com, caught Lone Peak's 63-59 win over Wesleyan Christian Academy at the Brandon Jennings Invitational and marveled at the Knights. He said he believes Emery and Mika could play at any school in the country if they so desired, a true testament to the amount of eye-popping skill sets in the state right now.
"If Eric Mika was available, he'd be the highest-recruited big man in the country right now," Rankin said. "That's how good I think he can be."
Salt Lake Metro coach Dave Hammer, who coaches Van Dyke, Emery, Miller and Southern Utah commit Race Parsons, has been coaching basketball in Utah since 1986. He said while he is high on a number of current players around the state, he tries to bring a grounded mentality to his coaching style.
Hammer coached teams that included former prep stars and D-I stars Jackson Emery, Joe Darger, Shaun Green, Tyler Newbold and C.J. Wilcox, just to name a few, so he's cautious to dub this group part of a golden era in Utah basketball.
"For eventual college greatness, I'm not completely ready to jump on the bandwagon," he said. "That's where it's hard to compare, but they're on track to be very good."
Holt attributed the gleam this group has to the players' familiarity with one another "These kids love each other," he said adding whether or not they're teammates on the high school or club level, they support each other.
"They had the talent, and with that opportunity, and nothing intimidates them," said Holt when asked why members of his club team have continued to shine through the ranks. "While others were playing 20 to 30 Junior Jazz games a year, these kids were playing 100 games a year nationally."
Even after a 24-point home loss to region rival Bountiful, Van Dyke's face lit up when asked about those old club teams filled with future stars traveling around the country playing and beating some of the best teams in the U.S.
"When we were younger, we always said that we were going to be a really good high school class," he said. "I'm not surprised at all that we have some really good players in the state."
Aaron Falk contributed to this story.
BYU • Nick Emery (Lone Peak, 2013), TJ Haws (Lone Peak, 2014), Eric Mika (Lone Peak, 2013), Dalton Nixon (Orem, 2014)
Utah • Parker Van Dyke (East, 2013), Brandon Miller (Brighton, 2014)
Utah State • Jalen Moore (Sky View, 2013), Sam Merrill (Bountiful, 2014)
Southern Utah • Race Parsons (South Sevier, 2013)
Montana State • Stephan Holm (Riverton, 2013)
Notables undecided • Brekkott Chapman (Roy, 2014), Abel Porter (Davis, 2014), Ryan Andrus (American Fork, 2014), Jordan Darger (Orem, 2013), Cooper Holt (Orem, 2014), Quinn Peters (Orem, 2014), Zac Hunsaker (Orem, 2013)
Utah bumper crop
A majority of Utah's top high school players have grown up playing with each other, including a youth AAU team that featured Nick Emery, TJ Haws, Brandon Miller, Parker Van Dyke, Jordan Darger and Conner Toolson.
Majority of coaches say the classes of 2013 and 2014 stand out due to each player's versatility and athleticism.
Most D-I recruits have been playing on a national stage for the better part of their careers, which translates to being exposed outside of Utah from a young age.
Club basketball has helped Utah high school basketball players face some of the top competition from across the country.
By the numbers
Stats through Jan. 18:
Player/School Ht. PPG
Nick Emery, Lone Peak 6-1 18.0
Eric Mika, Lone Peak 6-10 15.2
TJ Haws, Lone Peak 6-4 15.8
Brandon Miller, Brighton 6-2 18.5
Parker Van Dyke, East 6-3 24.9
Dalton Nixon, Orem 6-7 16.9
Brekkott Chapman, Roy 6-8 20.0
Sam Merrill, Bountiful 6-4 17.5
Jalen Moore, Sky View 6-7 23.9
Race Parsons, South Sevier 6-4 26.6