In researching the all-time best NBA players from Utah college basketball programs recently, I was struck by a notable absence. Where were the Utahns?
Shawn Bradley, my choice over Danny Vranes, was the only Utah high school product to make the top 10. Will anyone from the current generation ever crack that list? Probably not. Even so, five former Utah prep players will be worth watching this season. They’re the guys I’ll be looking for in the box scores every night.
This will be another season when no Utah teams make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, I said only Weber State would qualify — and I missed that prediction by 48 seconds, when the Wildcats gave away a four-point lead in regulation before losing in overtime to North Dakota in the Big Sky Conference championship game. And none of the state’s six Division I teams appears to be markedly improved over last season, with the possible exception of Utah Valley.
So these five are charged with maintaining my interest in 2017-18:
• Nick Emery, BYU (Lone Peak HS). Emery would be a subject of curiosity, even without the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into impermissible benefits that apparently will sideline him for a while as BYU’s season begins Saturday.
The junior guard is an entertaining, competitive player — traits that are both his strength and weakness. His shooting percentage and scoring average dropped off from his freshman year, partly stemming from former teammate Eric Mika’s emergence and also reflecting his own consistency.
Mix in the Cougars’ first meeting with Utah since Emery’s punch at the Huntsman Center two years ago, and his season becomes even more interesting — whenever it starts.
• David Collette, Utah (Murray HS). The week before Emery’s rematch with Utah, Collette will face his former Utah State teammates in the inaugural Beehive Classic at Vivint Smart Home Arena. That event will be a case study all its own, after something like this has been discussed for more than 30 years. How well will fans support it?
Collette would have been a great player in the Mountain West. In the Pac-12, he’s merely good. Utah needs a lot from him this season. The Utes are about to get a talent infusion, but not for another year. They can challenge for an NCAA bid if Collette rises to an all-conference level.
• Brekkott Chapman, Weber State (Roy HS). The Utes have lost so many transfers in the past two years that keeping track of them is difficult. Yet one of them is only 35 miles away.
Unlike Collette’s shots at USU coach Tim Duryea, Chapman’s criticism of Utah has been veiled in compliments to coach Randy Rahe’s Wildcat program. In any case, he’s not scheduled to face the Utes in his remaining two collegiate seasons.
Chapman should be an outstanding Big Sky player and he’ll be vital to Weber State, having scored 20 points in an exhibition game.
• Koby McEwen, Utah State (Wasatch Academy). McEwen counts as a Utah high school product, even though he grew up in Toronto before coming to Wasatch Academy.
All that’s being asked of him is to save coach Tim Duryea’s job and make USU basketball relevant again. McEwen was wildly inconsistent as a freshman, scoring anywhere from five to 28 points in Mountain West play, but he’ll be one of the conference’s best players. The Aggies have produced only one NBA player in 45 years, and Desmond Penigar appeared in the league for only 10 games. McEwen will last much longer, eventually.
• Yoeli Childs, BYU (Bingham HS). My first impression of Childs was less than overwhelming. Drawn by Copper Hills’ Stockton Shorts — I came for the name and stayed for the game — I caught Childs as a Bingham junior and wondered why there was so much fuss about him.
Three years later, he should be a force in the West Coast Conference and keep the Cougars from missing Mika, who turned pro after his sophomore year and went undrafted. Childs has a well-rounded game and will rack up big numbers in a league that lacks dominant inside players.