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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Academy basketball players in a huddle during practice in Mt. Pleasant, Tuesday February 25, 2014. Bryson Langdon at center.
Boys’ basketball: Wasatch Academy’s rise ignites critics

2A juggernaut looks for a solution to solve the competitive imbalance.

First Published Feb 26 2014 05:01 pm • Last Updated Feb 26 2014 09:47 pm

Mount Pleasant

Wasatch Academy star guard Koby McEwen lounges on a leather couch in the orange-walled coach’s office tucked in the boys’ locker room. The sound of basketballs echo through the walls.

At a glance

About Wasatch Academy

Founded » 1875. Enrollment » 340 students from 38 countries

College acceptance rate » 100 percent

Record over last two seasons » 48-2

Key players » Geno Luzcando, Koby McEwen, Cody John

Boys’ tournament schedules

2A quarterfinals

At Sevier Valley Center,Richfield

Thursday

» Emery vs. South Summit, 9:30 a.m.

» Merit vs. Enterprise, 11:10 a.m.

» South Sevier vs. Parowan, 12:50 p.m.

» Gunnison vs. Wasatch Academy, 2:30 p.m.

3A quarterfinals

At Centrum Arena (SUU), Cedar City

Thursday

» Richfield vs. Snow Canyon, 9:30 a.m.

» Cedar vs. Juan Diego, 11:10 a.m.

» Pine View vs. Payson, 12:50 p.m.

» Bear River vs. Morgan, 2:30 p.m.

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A year in which Class 2A Wasatch Academy, a private preparatory boarding school of just 340 students, has ascended to the heights of the Utah basketball world — regularly beating opponents by 40 or 50 points — is winding to a close. McEwen takes a moment and a breath and considers the legacy the Tigers will leave behind.

"One of the best teams in Utah, no matter how big our school is," he said. "I want our legacy to be Wasatch Academy is the best school in Utah, period."

That the Tigers have a right to lay claim to that title is difficult to dispute. But how they’ve gotten there and the effect the success has had on the rest of Class 2A, which has stood little chance against them, has earned them legions of detractors — and possibly a chance to blaze a new trail in Utah prep sports history.

From small beginnings » Joseph Loftin, Wasatch Academy’s Head of School, remembers the way things used to be.

The Tigers had talent, but blowout losses were the norm. Loftin, who comes from an athletic background, knew coaching was what was missing. He began a search and found Geno Morgan, an assistant coach at Georgia’s Emory University who was hungry for a head coaching job.

It didn’t take long for Morgan to turn around the Tigers. In his first year, the 2009-2010 season, they went from a three-win team to a three-loss team. The Tigers were Class 1A champions a year later.

"We just said we wanted our kids to play the game well and compete," Loftin said. "... What he did far exceeded any expectations we had."


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The Tigers moved up to Class 2A and the success has mushroomed from there. They lost just once last season on their way to another state title. They are even better this season, led by three players with Division I futures — McEwen and fellow guards Cody John and Geno Luzcando.

No team in Class 2A has come close to touching them.

"Us against the world" » The success has brought more than wins. It’s given breath to many critics, who say the Tigers are allowed to play with an unfair advantage.

Most Class 2A teams cultivate their players from small communities, where the athletes have known each other since childhood. The Tigers’ roster, however, is littered with players from around the world. Their four leading scorers, McEwen (Canada), John (Canada), Luzcando (Chile) and forward Alex Baptist (France) are from foreign countries.

South Sevier coach Rhett Parsons said the Tigers being allowed to play with so many foreign-born players has stolen the chance to win a state title from kids who grew up dreaming of just that.

"I watch these kids from, like, second grade on, and they start to emulate the high school kids playing basketball in their town," said Parsons, whose Rams have lost twice this season to the Tigers. "There’s a lot of pride and tradition in the basketball team. People eat, drink, sleep it here."

But Rob Cuff, Director of the Utah High School Activities Association, said allowing private schools to compete with public schools remains the most viable option, especially given Utah’s open-enrollment laws that allow teams from public schools to play with kids who live outside their boundaries.

"Just saying, ‘Just take all the charter schools and all the private schools and put them in their own league’ really doesn’t address the fact that other schools may have kids from out of area or have foreign exchange students," Cuff said.

Allegations of recruiting also have followed the Tigers’ rise. Cuff said the UHSAA has investigated multiple claims of wrongdoing at Wasatch Academy — all of which proved to be unfounded.

Morgan brushes off accusations that players come to Wasatch Academy for basketball. He said the team’s diversity is merely representative of that of the school, where students from 38 countries are enrolled, a number supported by a quick walk around campus.

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