Prep boys' basketball: Bountiful's Merrill turns heads under the radar
It usually ends up as a two-person conversation.
Some like Brekkott Chapman, the 6-foot-8 power forward from Roy who committed to the Utes on Monday, as the best high school player in Utah. Others like TJ Haws, the 6-4 shooting guard from Lone Peak who will play at BYU.
Both are among the top 50 high school players in the country, stars who will continue their careers in the biggest rivalry in Utah.
Rarely is Sam Merrill mentioned. Bountiful's 6-4 point guard pledged to Utah State last summer without fanfare. He was among the best players in the state tournament this past March at Weber State. Merrill quietly has been the steadying influence for the Utah Prospects, the most star-studded AAU team in the state this summer.
"Nobody ever seems to give him his just due," Prospects coach Lynn Lloyd said.
Lloyd became emotional as Merrill's summer basketball career ended last weekend. He knows how valuable Merrill has been to the ascension of his program. He knows that Merrill has been the ultimate glue guy. USU coaches are excited for his arrival, which will come after he serves an LDS Church mission, and they think he can could be a contributor instantly.
"When I committed to Utah State, I just knew that's where I wanted to go," Merrill said. "It just felt right at the time. I know that I had a lot of high school left, but being in Logan was definitely the right fit for me."
In a world of adulation and notice, Merrill's game has had precious little of either. He won't pop up on any of the top-100 lists that feature Chapman and Haws. His name won't ring out as much as it will blend in.
But people have noticed. Lloyd said schools from power conferences like the Pac-12 and Big 12 have inquired recently about him, willing to test his commitment to the Aggies. They immediately were rebuffed. Recruiting analysts have talked about him on Twitter, calling him a steal.
Nothing he does on the court is flashy. But Merrill is efficient. He's capable of being a point guard and running the offense, or he can slide off the ball and score. Many have compared him to Tyler Newbold, a four-year starter on Utah State teams that went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He's a confident defender, capable of locking down the best perimeter scorers.
"He's one of the most competitive people and players that I've been around," Davis High point guard Abel Porter said. "He's someone who will do anything to win a game, and he's one of my best friends. He's such a great player that he often gets overlooked. But when the game is over, he will always have made an impact."
Bountiful is a favorite to win a Class 4A state title this upcoming season, and Merrill is a chief reason for that. The Braves fell short of that quest last season, but not before Merrill put on a show at the Dee Events Center, doing pretty much anything he wanted on the court.
And while others have gotten more attention, it's difficult to find as solid an all-around player as Merrill.
Sam Merrill file
• Will be a senior at Bountiful High
• Committed to Utah State last summer
• Is a starting guard with the Utah Prospects