‘Overlooked’ Utah basketball recruits get a chance to prove themselves on a big stage

Several players from the Beehive state, many of them uncommitted, showed their skills in the two-day event.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Max Toombs (32) of Corner Canyon goes up against Carson Bailey (0) of Bingham as they compete in the 5 For Fight National Hoopfest Utah County tournament at Pleasant Grove High School on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Pleasant Grove • Corner Canyon guard Max Toombs is mostly getting offers from junior colleges to play basketball. But after two days of playing in the 5 For The Fight Hoopfest Utah County event, the uncommitted senior thinks he’s worth another look.

“I believe I have [Division] I talent,” Toombs said. “I just need to show it and improve on some of the things.”

Toombs went off Wednesday, the second day of the event hosted by Pleasant Grove High School. He scored 44 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the 3-point line in a blowout victory over Bishop Walsh of Maryland, which competes in the elite National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. He also made eight of his 10 free-throw attempts. He scored 24 points in the team’s first game, which was against Bingham.

Toombs embodies what the Hoopfest event provides: a setting where local talent can watch and compete against high-level and nationally ranked teams, with games broadcast on ESPN networks. This week was the first time the event was held in Utah.

“I think it’s important because we got some ballers in Utah for sure that are overlooked, I feel like,” Chargers junior Brody Kozlowski said of the event’s significance being in Utah. “So coming to Utah and just all the Utah schools showing out and showing how they can play the right basketball, I think it’s a big thing to come to Utah.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brody Kozlowski (15) of Corner Canyon competes in the 5 For Fight National Hoopfest Utah County tournament at Pleasant Grove High School on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Corner Canyon was one of six Utah teams that participated in the event. The others were Bingham, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Real Salt Lake Academy and Wasatch Academy.

The event also featured national powers Bishop Walsh School (Maryland), AZ Compass Prep, Montverde Academy (Florida) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas).

Recruiters from schools around the country were in the stands watching games.

It’s not every day that schools in Utah get the chance to watch and compete against some of the country’s best high school basketball players.

“The main thing is exposure,” said Kozlowski, who currently has 11 college offers. “If you can get exposure to these colleges and they see you, and if you catch their eye and you’re the fit for them, then they’ll start recruiting you.”

Among the schools recruiting Kozlowski are Utah Valley (UVU coach Mark Madsen was in the stands both days), Weber State, Utah State, Nevada, Loyola Chicago, Washington State and Boise State. In a game against Bingham, he scored 14 points and added six rebounds and a block while shooting 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. He had 11 points and 19 rebounds against Bishop Walsh.

Wasatch Academy, which also competes in the NIBC, features three transfers who are getting recruited by some Utah schools. They are Jeremiah Johnson, Malick Diallo and Osiris Grady.

Diallo, a junior, said BYU is among the schools that have offered him. That list also includes UCLA, Virginia, Arizona and LSU. He added that he has taken an unofficial visit to BYU. He wants a school where he’d get minutes as a freshman and “lets the big guy play,” he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Malick Diallo (32) of Wasatch Academy competes in the 5 For Fight National Hoopfest Utah County tournament at Pleasant Grove High School on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Johnson, also a junior, said he’s “working on” getting offers from BYU, Utah and Southern Utah. But he does already have offers from schools close to his home state of Oklahoma.

Grady is a senior from Las Vegas. Before he arrived at Wasatch Academy, he had 14 or 15 Division I offers, he said. But as AAU started, contact from coaches has slowed down. He said the main schools talking to him right now are Weber State, University of Nevada-Reno and IUPUI.

“I’m not really too worried about that right now,” Grady said. “I’m just focused on basketball and doing what I have to do for this season. We’re on live television, so they’re going to see me no matter what. So I’m just locked in and when I get a call, I’m ready.”

RSL Academy has 6-foot-10 senior center Lyman Simmons, who scored 18 points and brought down 10 rebounds in the team’s only game of the event. Simmons, a transfer, is not being highly recruited, though he does have an offer from SUU. And coach Dave Evans believes his big man will be a steal.

“People need to understand that he just keeps getting better every day,” Evans said of Simmons. “Some school will get really lucky with him. He’s a special kid. ... There’s a lot of schools missing out on him right now. But hopefully they see by the end of the year how good he’s gotten.”

Wasatch Academy coach Paul Peterson said events like the Hoopfest provide local talent with a direction to take their games.

“I think for me, it’s always about the future,” Peterson said. “Show the young kids here what they can be.”