Fire and frenzy of Sanpete boys basketball just around the corner
By Matt Harris
Most of the state of Utah experienced a premature onset of the winter season in the last few weeks. As temperatures dropped to freezing, and winter coats came out months earlier than expected, perhaps the chilling winds were trying to simply tell us one thing.
Basketball season is coming.
Sanpete’s three local prep boys’ basketball squads prepare for an upcoming season with different goals in mind, looking back where they came from and looking forward to where they can go. Region realignment creates new challenges for Manti, North Sanpete and Gunnison Valley.
Though the stadium lights of the football field may be dimming, the fire and frenzy of Sanpete hoops is just around the corner.
Make no mistake, Coach Devin Shakespear knows the Templars are the team to beat.
Manti moves to a different region in the 2019-2020 season. Moving away from the tough Region 15 pool, the Templars bring their experience and skill to Region 14, where the competition projects far better in their favor.
Region 14 features Juab, Delta, Union, Maeser Prep and American Leadership Academy. Manti and cross-town rival North Sanpete enter the region supplanting the formidable Providence Hall and Carbon.
“There’s definitely some weaker teams,” Shakespear said. “I think Juab and Union both will be better than what people think, and I think Delta, they’re not an easy out.”
Region 15, where the Templars competed last year, was a shark tank from top to bottom. Only one team in Region 15, the struggling North Sanpete Hawks, finished with a record under .500 last season, and without counting them, the remaining six squads had a combined winning percentage of .684, an average of 17 wins per team.
Manti finished with a 20-7 overall record, 8-4 in region, took third in region and played their way to fourth in 3A after falling to eventual champion Morgan in the semifinals.
Region 14, without Manti, features only one team, Delta, who finished with a winning record last year. The Rabbits finished 13-8.
The Templars lost a significant amount of star power to graduation last summer, but they have plenty to be excited about even still.
Previous seniors Adam Huff and Mason Thompson are gone from the starting lineup. Huff led Manti’s balanced scoring attack with 15.5 points per game and an ability to score from anywhere on the floor. Mason Thompson, the Templars’ primary ball-handler averaged 11.6 points per game and made 64 3-pointers.
Deserved hype should surrounded the upcoming junior year of sophomore Grady Thompson, Mason’s younger brother. Grady, as a sophomore, showcased prowess beyond his years in every facet of the game, averaging 12.5 points per game, second on the team, and locking down players on defense. Grady had seven double-doubles last season in points and rebounds and nearly had a triple when he notched 22 points, 19 rebounds, and 9 assists against San Juan on the road.
Despite having an “excellent offseason,” as Shakespear said, Grady did suffer injuries to both of his ankles, one after the other. Shakespear called the first injury a “pretty vicious sprain.” It’s not clear whether Grady will be ready to go for a few games of the start of the season.
“As far as his game goes,” Shakespear said, “he’s worked hard, and he sees the floor very well. He’s gotten stronger and a little bit bigger, and you know he’s a great facilitator. We have very high expectations for Grady. He’s solid inside and out, and we just gotta get him healthy again.”
Manti also returns starters Connor Christiansen and Travis Thomson, both of whom enter their senior years.
Christiansen will do his normal job of holding down the inside post for the Templars, but Shakespear said to expect more offense from the senior who averaged only 4.5 points per game last season. As for Thomson, who was one of two players to dish out over 100 assists last season, the future looks bright.
With the remaining two starting spots, Shakespear said he expects to fill one with senior Kevin Clark, who averaged 5.78 points per game.
The remaining spot is between seniors Konnor Clark and Jordan Blauer, two players that didn’t see the court a great deal last year. Shakespear was high on the development of Blauer and his capacity to serve as the Templars’ primary defender.
“He really took on the roll this summer of being able to be our strongest defender,” Shakespear said. “If he’ll do that in the preseason, then he’ll solidify his role in that area.”
Overall, Shakespear feels great about the depth of, not just seniors, but valuable contributors six or seven deep into the lineup.
The Templars play in two invitationals this year, the Central Utah Basketball Preview in Richfield and the Coach Walker in St. George. The Preview pits Manti against last season’s playoff foes, first with Grantsville and then a grudge match of sorts with Morgan. At the Classic, Manti will take on Washington county schools Dixie, Pine View, and brand-new team Crimson Cliffs.
Shakespear enters his sixth season as head coach for Manti. Last season was his winningest as a head coach.
The Templars start their season on Friday, Nov. 22, with a home matchup against Gunnison Valley before taking on South Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
Last season, in a formidable region with title contenders down to the fifth-place spot, the Hawks clearly could not keep up.
North Sanpete boys’ hoops won the fewest games in a season since 2012, finishing 4-17 and going winless in region play. They lost their region contests by an average of 21.3 points and only once lost a region game by less than double digits, a nine-point loss on the road against rival Manti.
Coach Cris Hoopes, entering his fifth season at the head of the Hawks, said last year’s biggest problem was not being able to gel as a team.
“The thing we’re just kind of looking forward to this year is just moving on,” Hoopes said. “We feel like we have something to prove, that last year wasn’t who we are.”
Following the breakup of Region 15 as a 3A region, the Hawks move with Manti over to Region 14, replacing Carbon and Providence Hall. North Sanpete could potentially have an advantage of lesser competition against the other five teams in Region 14 who collectively finished with an average winning percentage of .393.
“I actually think that the region we’re moving into will have some really good teams,” Hoopes said. “I think our region will be as good or as tough as the other region.”
Hoopes said the rival Templars are “probably the team to beat,” but expects tough competition from Juab, Delta, and Union.
North Sanpete’s star player, Scott Hatch, enters his senior year with the Hawks after averaging 14.8 points per game last season. Trevin Morley, a junior, comes back as well.
The rough part will be overcoming the seven seniors lost to graduation last summer, including Jamal Mayoul, Tyler Hadley, Alan Oldroyd, and Ashton Osborne. Mayoul and Hadley were the second and third highest scorers on the team.
Hoopes is confident in the upcoming junior and sophomore classes, expecting to have two or three players averaging double digits, making it easier for Hatch to be efficient and impactful.
“I think that it will get easier for him,” Hoopes said. “That was kind of our struggle was shooting-wise; we never really shot that well. Our JV program actually did really well as a group. You know, our junior and sophomore classes, although young, will be very good. I think that it will be easier on Scott because there are other kids that can now score. We won’t be relying on him heavily.”
A big test for the Hawks at the beginning will be how they handle the first part of their schedule. Opening games against Grand, South Sevier and Carbon will show just how much the Hawks are capable of.
North Sanpete then competes in the Bear River Winter Classic in Garland. The Hawks experienced two painful losses at the Classic last year, falling by a single point to 2A power-team North Summit and in the final minutes against 4A Ogden.
“It shaped our season,” Hoopes said. “We felt like, if we probably could have found a way to win some of those games early, some more games would have added up, and we could’ve had a better season. It can be a tough tournament.”
North Sanpete will face off against 2A teams South Summit and Gunnison Valley in the Classic before facing 4A host Bear River.
The Hawks begin their season at home against Grand on Friday, Nov. 22, at 1 p.m.
For Gunnison Valley’s basketball team, a season filled with ups and downs was only two points away from being completely forgiven.
The Bulldogs finished with a respectable 10-12 overall record, but crawled to a 4-8 region record, including a six-game losing streak. They qualified for the 2A playoffs as the bottom seed.
In that first game of the tournament, Gunnison came ever so close to doing something magical. Pulling back from an eight-point deficit to top-seeded Rowland Hall, the Bulldogs made two 3-pointers to tie the game at 60 with under a minute left, but the Winged Lions made one basket more to deflate any hope of an upset and sent Gunnison home.
It’s been nine months since that game, and Bulldog hoops fans have plenty reason to be excited.
Gunnison’s status as a longtime 2A sports program seems like the one building still standing while the realignment tornado rips up the rest of the town.
The Bulldogs moved out of Region 18 to occupy Region 16, featuring a slate of teams assembled from three different regions. Gunnison will face Region 16 incumbents North Summit, Duchesne, and Altamont, former 1A Region 19 power Monticello, and former Region 18 cohort North Sevier. North Summit and Monticello each finished with winning records last season.
If the Bulldogs were able to compete in a tough Region slate, then this season offers plenty of optimism for a team that also dealt with the burden of youth last year.
Gunnison only lost one player to graduation last summer, their leading scorer Parx Bartholomew. He averaged 14.9 points per game, led the team in assists, and he was a four-year staple of Bulldog basketball.
The Bulldogs have everyone else they need for a great season. Junior Janzen Keisel and senior Jackson Hill return after being the second-and third-highest scorers on the team. Keisel led in rebounding and blocks as well. Seniors Garrett Francis and Brandon Tucker also return to make key contributions as well as junior Creed Mogle.
For the second year in a row, Gunnison will not host the Danny Hill Invitational at their gym. Instead, they were invited to join North Sanpete in the Bear River Winter Classic.
In the Classic, Gunnison will face off against 4A Weber county schools Ogden and Ben Lomond and have a displaced cross-county contest with North Sanpete.
Coach Ben Hill enters his fifth season coaching the Bulldogs.
Gunnison begins the season with a home matchup against Wayne on Wednesday, Nov. 20, before a weekend date at Manti the following Friday. They will have a five-day streak of games starting Tuesday, Dec. 3, facing Tintic, and playing Pinnacle Academy on Wednesday before heading off to the Classic.