Boys' basketball: Reigning national champ Lone Peak returns plenty of talent
Highland • It is early in a midweek practice, and Lone Peak basketball coach Quincy Lewis is angry. He hastens with long, quick strides from midcourt to the baseline, where his players are waiting. They know what he's come to say.
Lewis reprimands them in a raised voice for poor offensive positioning. It is just less than two weeks away from the start of the Knights' season, and Lewis knows it is the little things, like a single player here when he should be there, that could make all the difference.
Run it again, he says.
The players again take their spots, and Zach Frampton dribbles the ball from midcourt to the top of the arc, passing left to T.J. Haws, who has daylight on the wing. As the defense crashes on the sinewy redhead, one of the top players in the nation, he fakes and kicks to Frank Jackson, waiting open in the corner.
He fires and makes. Lewis, looking on, nods his head. In the new era for Lone Peak basketball, the Knights may not be perfect but there still is much talent.
"This year definitely is a different team," Haws said after practice. "Obviously we lost a couple guys, but we're definitely able to compete with good teams. We've got talent. ... A lot of these guys that didn't get time [last year] definitely would have gotten time at a different school."
Yes, dynamos Nick Emery and Eric Mika, who along with Haws helped transform last year's Knights into the most successful team in Utah prep basketball history, are gone to BYU. And the names behind Haws may be unfamiliar to casual fans.
But it still is Lone Peak, and the path to the summit of Utah prep basketball runs through this gym, the players say. A glance to the row of metallic black title shields on the walls ringing the court confirms that: 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013.
An empty space on the wall awaits to the right of them.
The newcomer Jackson, who transferred in the offseason from Lehi, is a believer: "All these guys are way talented. We've got a great shot at winning that state championship."
After practice, Lewis singles out Frampton, a guard, and big-man Spencer Curtis as two players whose performance will be crucial if the Knights are to seize a fourth straight title. Both saw action on the floor last year, and Lewis said both can play at the next level.
Lewis said he expects the core of his team to be strong, with those two, along with Haws and Jackson, a quick, hard-working guard who averaged double figures for Lehi last year and already is committed to BYU. Last year's junior varsity team, which didn't lose a game in league play, should provide solid pieces, as well.
But there are teams in the state capable of knocking the Knights off their throne, Lewis acknowledges. Certainly it won't be as easy as last year's team made it look at times while slicing through opponents. Still, he senses a desire radiating from his team.
The players know the history here. They were there last year when the scoreboard so often reflected Lone Peak dominance. And they were there after the season, when the silver national title shield was bolted firmly onto the wall in the corner of the gym, a raucous student body cheering on.
Five players to watch
T.J. Haws, Sr., Lone Peak, G • The lone returning key member of Lone Peak's national title-winning team, the BYU-bound guard is one of the best players in the state and the country, coming in at No. 67 on ESPN's list of top senior recruits.
Brekkott Chapman, Sr., Roy, F • Chapman's stock has kept rising since he broke onto the scene the summer before his junior year, and the Utah commit found himself ranked ESPN's No. 46 recruit in the country.
Sam Merrill, Sr., Bountiful, G • Merrill led the Braves to the semifinals last season and demonstrated why many consider the Utah State commit among the most versatile guards in the state, averaging more than 18 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.
Dalton Nixon, Sr., Orem, F • Nixon, another Cougars commit, fell about two rebounds per game shy of averaging a double-double last year for a team that won 20 games and Region 8.
Jesse Wade, Jr., Davis, G • One of the top pure point guards in the state, Wade committed to Gonzaga in October. Averaged a team-leading 14 points last year as a sophomore but figures to shoulder an even heavier load for a team that lost three of its five leading scorers.
Five teams to watch
Lone Peak • Four key pieces from last year's national title team are gone, including stars Nick Emery and Eric Mika. Still, talent remains, including highly touted guards senior T.J. Haws and newcomer Frank Jackson, who transferred from Lehi after dropping 30 points against the Knights last year as a freshman.
Bountiful • The Braves on paper are one of the most talented teams in the state. Sam Merrill returns, as do rising star Zac Seljaas and guard Pere Le Sueur, meaning the core of last year's team that was a buzzer-beater away from playing for a state title is back.
Orem • Getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs was a disappointing finish for the Region 8-winning Tigers last season, but they return three players who averaged double figures in points, including all-state forward Dalton Nixon.
American Fork • If there's a team that can knock off Lone Peak in Region 4 this year, it's the Cavemen, led by 6-foot-10 center Ryan Andrus, who is a physical mismatch against nearly every team in the state.
Davis • The return of Jesse Wade and Abel Porter, one of the best guard duos in the state, could be enough to get the Darts back atop Region 1, a place they haven't been in recent seasons.