Hopes for a 1A state title for Intermountain Christian hinge upon two sharpshooting juniors, and the role players who benefit

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Christian's Brayden Stoddard at practice in Salt Lake City on Thursday Jan. 3, 2019.

Cottonwood Heights • Earlier in the season, Brayden Stoddard had the night of his life.

It was early December during a slate of preseason basketball at Intermountain Christian High School, and the Lions were playing Draper APA. Stoddard, a junior guard with a streaky shooting stroke, found himself in an unusual situation after making his first three attempts from the 3-point line.

For a player who admits he usually gets off to slow starts, Stoddard, even in the moment, was a bit surprised.

“This never happens,” Stoddard thought.

His evening continued much like it started, and Stoddard ended up scoring 41 points and making 12 3-pointers in 28 attempts, a 43 percent clip that would make even some NBA players jealous. His 12 triples tied a state record, and his 28 tries broke another one. That same day, Stoddard also lit up the junior varsity game, scoring 53 points.

Stoddard is part of an offensive one-two punch at the 1A Intermountain Christian, which has a 7-3 overall record going into Tuesday’s matchup against Wendover, the top 1A school in the state. Stoddard and fellow junior Caleb Koski — a first-year transfer from Roy High School — each average 4.7 made 3-pointers per game, which is tied for first in the state and 12th in the country.

Stoddard — sitting in the team’s weight room while decked out in an all-black ensemble of a tank, shorts, tights, Nikes and a hairband — said he and Koski frequently check the statistics to see which player is ranked where. But the relationship between them has been more symbiotic than competitive.

“We want to make our team win no matter what,” Stoddard said. “And if that means that I have give him the ball every single time and he has 50 points, or if I have 41 points, then as long as we win it doesn’t matter.”

Case in point: Stoddard’s December wonder emporium of 3s. The Draper APA defense schemed to double-team Koski the entire game, leaving Stoddard wide open. And he kept making them pay.

Stoddard would have broken the state record that night had it not been for a pair of traveling violations called against the Lions that came directly before a made 3.

“He was mad about that,” said Koski, who is the team’s leading scorer averaging nearly 31 points per game.

Intermountain Christian’s offense is designed to get Stoddard and Koski the ball as often as possible, head coach Tim Drisdom said. Essentially, they have the green light. There is no shot they are not allowed to take when they want to take it.

But that kind of freedom comes with caveats.

“I rely on those guys a lot,” Drisdom said. “With that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Christian's Brayden Stoddard and coach Tim Drisdom at practice in Salt Lake City on Thursday Jan. 3, 2019.

Drisdom openly refers to Koski as the team’s “best player,” and Stoddard the team’s “best shooter.” At various times during a morning practice on Monday, Drisdom barked at both players for not taking open shots, not passing the ball swiftly enough, or not setting harder screens.

When Drisdom, a former Utah standout, arrived to Intermountain Christian as head coach last year, Stoddard said he was “scared out of my mind.” Now the two have have a close relationship. So close that a friend of Stoddard’s once asked him why he texted his coach so frequently.

Koski, a 6-foot-7 forward with the handles and jump shot of a guard, has known Drisdom for years prior to the two joining forces again at Intermountain Christian. Drisdom coached Koski on AAU teams from fourth through seventh grade.

“He's always more skilled — super skilled,” Drisdom said of Koski. “Always been able to shoot it. Just really had a knack (of scoring).”

Koski said he knew joining the Lions meant Drisdom would make him the best player he could be.

“He's been the best coach for me,” Koski said. “He always gives me the best confidence. He just kind of gets the best out of me.”

Koski’s 30.9 points per game is tied for 14th in the country, and is easily tops in the state. Earlier this season, he scored 36 points in the second half of a game. And he has had two games in which he scored at least 45.

With Koski’s dynamic scoring and playmaking, and Stoddard’s high-volume shooting, the rest of the Lions are somewhat relegated to just getting them the ball and putting them in the best positions to score. But the team’s role players are more than happy to do that, especially because their opportunities come more easily with all the attention defenses have to pay to Stoddard and Koski.

Juniors Jared Ferkin and Will Gutzwiller get the bulk of the benefits. They are averaging 6.3 of the team’s 9.8 offensive rebounds combined.

Ferkin, who is one of the few varsity starters that returned from last year, is the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game. He is also the team’s leading rebounder by far, averaging 10.4 per game. Six of those are offensive rebounds.

Gutzwiller said Ferkin benefits the most from Stoddard and Koski’s offense because he is able to cut to the basket. Drisdom said Ferkin is able to crash the offensive glass on misses much more because of the team’s two dynamic players.

Gutzwiller contributes in his own fashion as the bulkiest player on the Lions. His role is get rebounds and set hard screens. One of the ways he gets Stoddard and Koski open, he said, is by sticking his leg out a bit when he makes contact with a defender, just to create that little bit of extra space.

“I'll set myself up and then kind of just stick my leg out a little bit, just to bump (a defender),” Gutzwiller said. “Just getting contact opens them up that much. And with the players that they are, that's all they need.”

Intermountain Christian wants to win a 1A state title this year. To do that, Drisdom said, every player is going to have to understand and play their role — Stoddard and Koski scoring in bunches, and players like Gutzwiller and Ferkin helping them do so.

But Drisdom believes he is coaching a team that is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

“I think they know that that’s how we’re going to win and I think I’m coaching a bunch of guys who want to win and that are willing to do that,” Drisdom said. "I coach a lot of unselfish guys.”