Here is Utah’s Thunderous 10, which is a term I just made up, subjectively listing and labeling the top athletes in reverse order with some inexact mixture of the highest profiles, the biggest contributions, the best connections with ordinary people, the greatest athletic achievements and auras and promise across all sports and/or teams in the state.
Let’s get to it.
10. (Tie) Preston Summerhays and MyKayla Skinner
We’ll start with a bit of a bail-out — a tie — right off the top, which makes the Thunderous 10 the Thunderous 11. Whatever.
At 15, Summerhays is not even old enough to drive — at least not a car, but … man, can he swing a club. He may not be as well-known as the other names on this list and he may actually attend high school in Arizona, but his family golfing tradition and his youth — dude still wears braces — is a major part of the intrigue surrounding him. Not only did he just win the Utah State Am, beating all the full-grown adults here, but he posted numbers in qualifying rounds for the United States Amateur that boggle the mind — a 60 and a 65 at Soldier Hollow. That right there is enough to land him on this list.
Skinner, the world-class gymnast who competes for Utah, was an alternate on Team USA at the last Olympics and could pursue the Olympics again in 2020. As Ute gymnastics fans know, her strongest events — near best-in-the-world strong — are vault and floor.
9. Tanner Mangum.
He may not even start at quarterback for BYU this fall, but if he does and if he sees any kind of success, Mangum’s will be one of the great comeback stories in recent memory. Not only is he returning from a serious Achilles injury — is there any other kind involving that particular body part? — he’s also attempting to make up for a completely forgettable performance a year ago when a once-sure QB prospect fell off a cliff, possibly to never become what he was supposed to be. Well … we’ll see.
8. Grayson Allen.
This entire list could be filled with Jazz player names — Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, and others — but, then, that would be boring. Suffice it to say that Allen, the team’s first-round draft pick from Duke, has caught the attention and imagination of Jazz fans, none of whom know exactly how much he will contribute or whether he’ll get his face caved in by some frustrated NBA veteran eager to knock that pug-like expression off the rookie’s face.
7. Tyler Huntley.
Part of this is because, whether anybody likes it or not, quarterbacks are the faces of their teams in pro and college football, and Huntley is the starter at that position for what will be the best team in the state in 2018. The Utes have the talent and a shot at accomplishing this season what they’ve never before done — finish atop the South Division in the Pac-12. USC is USC, with all the talent and capability that implies, but the Trojans are rebuilding, such as it is, and while they are, Huntley will hold the keys to Utah climbing over them. If he leads the offense the way OC Troy Taylor wants him to, if he can wise up, running only when it’s expeditious to do so, and refines his decision-making, allowing the stars around him — such as Zack Moss — to do what they can do, it could be an extraordinary season for the Utes, even with a most difficult schedule.
6. Kyle Beckerman.
Remember Mehdi Ballouchy? Of course you don’t. He’s the guy Real Salt Lake traded in July, 2007 for Beckerman. The old war horse battles on now. He is soccer in this state, having anchored RSL over a span that included stints on the U.S. mens national team and the captaincy of a team that won the MLS Cup, an achievement that seems like it happened a lifetime ago. He’s not what he once was, but Beckerman, as much as anyone else associated with RSL, represents the connection between the team and its community.
5. Joe Ingles.
The pugnacious and personable Aussie has found his place in Utah, a spot that not all that long ago few thought he could find or fill. He auspiciously has handed Mrs. O’Reilly, his former teacher at school in Adelaide who told him as a kid that he was wasting his time pursuing a professional basketball career, a full cup of shut the hell up. And he still half-growls, half-giggles when her name is brought up. She didn’t see him becoming one of the NBA’s most efficient three-point shooters, as well as a quality defender. She didn’t see him becoming something of a radio star in Salt Lake City, where Ingles connects with fans every week during the season by sharing tidbits of his life with the people for which he plays.
4. Nick Rimando.
He’s the only wall spoken of these days that doesn’t start a major argument around the dinner table — the Wall of the Wasatch. Now 39 years old, Rimando is the best goalkeeper in MLS history. Like Beckerman, he’s played for the USMNT, and is bolted to RSL’s glory years, having won an MLS Cup. He’s also continued to perform at a high level, even as the shadows of his long career have begun to darken the mouth of the goal he keeps at Rio Tinto.
3. Tony Finau.
What you need to know about Finau are two things: First, when he was a kid growing up in Salt Lake, he and his brother didn’t have the money to buy buckets of balls to hit willy-nilly at the driving range, so they hung an old mattress on the wall in their garage, fashioning targets on said mattress and hammering balls day after day at them until the boys darn-near perfected the craft of doing so, and, second, Finau will win a major tournament — maybe more than one — sometime in the not-too-distant future. Count on it. He’s the only PGA golfer this year to have finished in the top 10 at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open, highlighted by that gutsy Masters performance after having dislocated his ankle prior to the first round.
2. Rudy Gobert.
Defensive player of the year in the NBA who has joined with a certain teammate to defend Utah, as a state and as a desirable franchise for which to play, at every turn. Does not want to chase a championship where the chasing is easiest. Rather, wants to win one here, where his trajectory as one of the game’s most impactful players was launched, where it is most appreciated.
1. Donovan Mitchell.
Shocking, I know. He’s perfected a rare double-barreled pursuit of humbly learning by listening to people like Quin Snyder about how he can fulfill his potential as a young star in the NBA and moving to the beat of his own personal rhythm, appreciating what’s happening, unafraid to show how much he cares about embracing the fans and their city, about winning, about sharing the good moments with teammates, about being enthusiastic and charismatic and … what’s this, polite? I know. It’s crazy. It’s wacky. It’s weird. But Mitchell appears to be everything you always thought a great player should be, could be, what you would be — if you were talented enough to walk and run and jump and shoot and spin and dunk in his same shoes. I once asked him if he, with all the attention he was getting, was going to get all fatheaded and become a jerk. “No,” he said. “If I did, my mom would kill me.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.