Prep boys’ basketball: Lone Peak the best team in Utah history (with video)
By Christopher Kamrani
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 24 2013 07:12PM
Highland • Conventional wisdom is a series of ideas or explanations widely regarded as fact by the general populace.
So in the realm of Utah high school basketball, conventional wisdom now states that the Lone Peak Knights are the best team to ever come out of this state.
And the body of work does all the talking.
They’ve dominated on national TV, they’ve won national dunk contests and 3-point shootouts and earned more sky miles than they ever imagined, doing so with an exhilarating two-way style of play unforeseen in the prep ranks.
"I feel like we don’t know how to play any different," senior forward Talon Shumway said.
These Knights couldn’t if they tried.
They’ve been tabbed as the No. 1 team in America by MaxPreps.com for several weeks. They haven’t lost an in-state game since Feb. 10, 2012. They have supreme talent, mixed with an unrelenting work ethic and a coach who doesn’t take off one second.
Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis already has enough state title rings for an entire hand, having won five during his tenure as coach of the Highland-based program. He’s coached future college stars, an NBA draftee and now has the best high school team to ever come through Utah at his disposal for just six more days.
When the subject of best ever came up, he pointed out Jim Spencer’s Provo High teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He mentioned the Murray Spartans and their run toward dominance when brothers Jeff and Britton Johnsen headlined the state and even mentioned Timpview’s dominance in the late 1980s.
"It’s unfair to be able to say," Lewis said. "Those were fantastic teams. I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re the best ever when I know how good they were."
But no team had Eric Mika steamrolling down the paint. No team had Nick Emery spotting up from 30 feet out. No team had TJ Haws crossing over helpless defenders.
"Playing with these guys is just unreal," starting senior sharpshooter Conner Toolson said.
At 22-1, Lone Peak has changed the landscape of Utah high school hoops. The Knights have won nine out of 10 national tournament games this season. They snapped a 61-game win streak held by Pennsylvania program Chester during a memorable run toward the City of Palms Classic title game in Ft. Myers, Fla., in late December.
"It’s like watching a college team play," ESPN.com scout Reggie Rankin said.
And this group is more than just the flash it shows on the court, more than the alley-oops or the head-shaking 3-point shooting. This group wants to be known as a great team that plays hard. In a recent practice, it took all of 10 minutes before the 6-foot-10 mountainous Mika had to quell a fountain of blood from both nostrils with balled-up tissue paper.
"I think that’s why we play so well is because our practices are so hard," he said. "We can all push each other to our highest level."
Pushing and molding rare talent is one thing. Keeping a group of high school kids who can play like a video game grounded is another, and Lewis knows this. He calls it "the daily conversation."
"And our guys understand that," he said.
This is evident — and a bit scary — when Haws, the lone junior in Lone Peak’s starting five, said his team still has a lot to prove with the 5A tournament getting under way Monday on the campus of Weber State University.
"I think it’s being ready every single game," he said when asked about the team’s most-pressing challenge this season. "Sometimes it’s hard to stay mentally focused."
That may be the case from time to time, but the Knights certainly know how to snap out of a mini funk. Since their lone loss of the season — a 66-45 setback to Montverde Academy in Ft. Myers — they’ve won 12 straight games and eclipsed the 90-point mark three times.
For Emery, whose older brother Jackson starred at Lone Peak eight years ago, playing basketball with his best friends is what he knows. He is set to leave on his LDS mission to Germany in May and says the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter with these six days left in his high school career.
And capping it with a third state crown?
"It’s been my dream," he said.
When Shumway realized just how close the end is, he took a deep breath. He’ll be a wide receiver at BYU, meaning his days of finishing off a lob from his friends or a game-changing block at the rim are numbered.
"I’ve been playing since I was 5," he said, "way longer than I’ve played football. It means a lot to me."
Now, if things go according to plan for the best team in Utah high school history, four games remain. That’s 128 minutes left for echoing cheers — to encapsulate all those hours on cross-country flights, in laughs shared in hotel rooms all across the country — 128 minutes to make everyone remember what they did on the court.
Not just as Lone Peak Knights, or as state champions, but as the team to never forget.