Senior guard Nick Emery untucked his jersey and walked toward the bench, where he hugged every teammate, coach and manager in the final three minutes Saturday afternoon, with Lone Peak’s history-making work finished.
Moments later, Emery delivered the Class 5A championship trophy to the student section, then climbed over the railing and was mobbed in celebration.
It’s good to be a Knight.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” Emery said, with Lone Peak (26-1) having secured a third straight state title — and according to some kingmakers, a national championship — with a 72-39 defeat of Alta at the Dee Events Center.
So as Emery and Lone Peak teammates Eric Mika and T.J. Haws envision their eventual reunion in BYU’s basketball program, the question is: What could they ever do in college to match this?
“Win a national championship, I guess,” Emery said.
Seriously, that’s about what it would take — although delivering BYU’s first Final Four appearance probably would suffice.
“I’m extremely sad this is over,” Haws said, “but glad it finished the way it did.”
Knights coach Quincy Lewis admires the way his players handled everything and managed to remain grounded, and it couldn’t have been easy.
These guys are rock stars right now, enjoying celebrity status that nobody this side of Jimmer Fredette has attained in amateur basketball in 21st-century Utah. After they already have been treated to cross-country travel, showcase games, national rankings and major media attention in high school, how could college be anything but a letdown?
That’s not a commentary about BYU, the West Coast Conference or the state of college basketball, just the reality that Lone Peak’s season transcended anyone’s traditional high school experience. Everybody from The New York Times to NBC’s “Today” show became enamored with the Knights, making them a subject of curiosity and fascination.
The basic theme of the stories: How could a bunch of kids from Utah possibly become the best basketball team in the country?
That’s slightly insulting to those of us who like to believe the game was invented here, but it apparently played into the Knights’ motivation in rising to a national level.
“No one believed in us,” said Emery, speaking of observers beyond Utah’s borders. Around here, the anointing of the Knights occurred long before Saturday.
Alta certainly tried to make Lone Peak’s coronation more than a formality. The Hawks trailed 17-11 after the first quarter and 32-18 at halftime, which was commendable, considering how Brighton fell behind 47-17 in last March’s title game.
But then Emery returned after a long absence due to foul trouble and the Knights were unrelenting offensively and defensively. Alta shot 26 percent from the field, while Lone Peak’s five starters scored between 10 and 16 points. Mika, a center who was cast as an overqualified team manager last year after transferring to Lone Peak, finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds.
Haws, a junior, will take a shot at a fourth state championship next year. Emery’s LDS Church mission will begin soon, so the BYU-bound threesome’s college careers will be staggered. At some point, they’ll get together and somehow try to top their 2012-13 season.
“It’s been a blast,” Haws said.