American Fork • Ryan Andrus is not thinking about the state title banners tacked onto the brick on the east side of the cramped gym as practice winds to a conclusion. But the red and white flags always are creeping in the back of his mind.
Many years have passed since American Fork earned its last banner — 34 to be exact. There are more recent banners for other sports — the Cavemen baseball team, in particular, has seen much success — but a fifth basketball title has been elusive for the Cavemen, and for Andrus.
School » American Fork
Position » Center
Year » Senior
College commitment » BYU
That he has come close is a fact he often laments. The Cavemen lost the Class 5A title game to Lone Peak his freshman season. They fell to Alta in the semifinals last year. But the experience of standing at center court and lifting a trophy high over his head to the cheers of a deafening crowd has evaded him.
Andrus, now a senior and a BYU commit who is regarded as one of the most talented big men in the state, says this is his time. He is surrounded by a talented supporting cast, including Southern Utah commit Tyler Rawson and Brendan Bailey, the son of former Jazzman Thurl Bailey.
Finally, Andrus believes, the Cavemen have everything they need to earn another banner.
"It would be incredible," he said. "Every high school team’s goal is a state championship. ... Being there and seeing what it takes to get there, it would mean a whole lot. I think we have a good team this year. I think this is the year."
But the path is onerous. Crucial games with three-time defending state champion and region rival Lone Peak still loom. And navigating the state tournament unscathed is an immense undertaking. Andrus knows this. And because he knows it, he has done everything American Fork coach Doug Meacham has asked of him to get the Cavemen there. He gained muscle and strength in the weight room so he could become even more of a force down low. Further, he’s become a true leader.
"His natural tendency has been to be kind of laid back," Meacham said. "But this year, he’s been more assertive. He’s taken it on. I think he’s done a great job in terms of leadership in the offseason. He’s saying the right things. That’s what we need from our leader."
Andrus’ dedication is leading to results for the Cavemen. A strong showing at the Great Western Shootout, where their only loss was a nail-biter against one of the best teams in Colorado, Denver East, lifted their profile. A recent road loss to one of the Class 4A favorites, Bountiful, only will strengthen them, Andrus said.
"That’s what preseason is all about," he said. "Coach has done a good job scheduling some tough preseason games. You have to get better, see what you have and what matchups work. You have to learn from preseason so when February and March come, you’re ready for those teams."
Much of the burden will fall on Andrus when February and March do come, when the true tests arrive. And if he can succeed, he may deliver the banner he’s sought for so long.
"I think these guys, especially with our bigs, we know we’re as good as they are," Meacham said. "When they’re assertive and demand the ball, I think we have a chance to beat anybody."
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