Byline: Josh Loftin
After opening their season Tuesday with a tough 63–60 win over Richfield, the Wasatch Academy boys basketball team will compete this weekend in its first tournament.
The Tigers will play two games in the Atlanta Holiday Hoopsgiving. On Friday, Nov. 28, they will face High Point Christian Academy and on Saturday they will face Pace Academy of Atlanta. Both games start at 2:15 p.m. (Eastern time) and will be streamed through High School Cube.
In their game against Richfield, the Tigers proved themselves resilient by holding on to a lead against a very gritty Richfield squad. But the much-closer-than-expected game — Richfield’s Brandon Willardson, who scored 33 points and hit seven 3-pointers, missed a three at the buzzer to tie — also underscored the Tigers youth.
As the season begins in earnest, here are a few storylines to monitor:
- Expectations: Back-to-back state championships. Four losses in three years. Multiple invitational tournament trophies and individual player accolades. The Tigers have experienced a lot of success, and moved to independence to see how truly strong this program can become. The short-term question, especially this year, will be how the players handle both their own and the public’s expectations. With an incredibly aggressive schedule (more on that below), there will amost surely be losses. The question, however, is whether the adversity will make them a stronger team.
- Osmosis: As mentioned, the Tigers have a very aggressive schedule. They play multiple teams ranked in the top five nationally (Findlay Prep, La Lumiere) plus a slew of other top-flight basketball programs. If the players can learn from those teams and focus on competing as much as winning, they will lay a strong foundation for future success.
- Youth: Only two players (Cody John and Gus Navickas) are seniors, and the team has four sophomores who will get regular playing time. Their youth showed against Richfield, but seasoning takes time. Coach Geno Morgan understands the need for patience, and hopefully the players will buy in, as well.
- Energy: Past teams thrived on an unrelenting defense, never-ending hustle, and exceptional conditioning. They forced a ton of turnovers, but many of those were caused by Geno Luzcando (who graduated is now playing for Idaho State). The team definitely missed Luzcando against Richfield, although the most likely replacement for Luzcando, the 6’7″ Jackson Rowe, didn’t even dress because of a lingering injury. He is expected to play in Atlanta, and it will be interesting to see if he will help.
- Utah: The move to independence is unprecedented in Utah athletics, and initially most consider it a unique situation and at least some view it with skepticism. But if successful, what will it mean for other small private schools, for large schools with national aspirations, and for the state as a whole? Interesting questions that wins (and even good losses) will raise.