The chants of “national champs” and “best team ever” thundered down from the Lone Peak student section at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Saturday as they watched the starters of their beloved Knight boys basketball team leave the floor for the final time in the 2012-13 season.
As each of the five players reached the bench and received bear hugs from Lone Peak head coach Quincy Lewis, they had to be thinking that they’d accomplished what they set out to do:
- 5A state champions for the third straight year.
- No. 1 national rankings.
- Probably the best high school boys basketball team ever in the state of Utah.
Just a few minutes later, the final buzzer sounded and it became official. Lone Peak had defeated Alta, 72-39, in the 5A title game to take home the first-place trophy and reach the pinnacle of prep basketball.
“This is more special because it is the last three years combined,” said Knight senior guard Nick Emery, who played the entire tournament with a broken thumb on his shooting hand. “Not many teams have ever done this and all the hard work has paid off.”
Getting that title was a moment that all four seniors said they would treasure forever.
“Nothing is more satisfying,” said Lone Peak senior center Eric Mika. “This is my first state championship as a player and nothing has ever felt so good.”
The Knights have now stated their case on the floor to be named the best team in the country. Two of the five major polls (MaxPreps, Freeman) already have Lone Peak ranked No. 1, while the other three (USA Today, ESPN 25 Power Rankings, PrepNation) have the Knights at No. 3.
Lewis and the Lone Peak players have no doubt.
“I believe we are the best team,” Lewis said. “We’ve played the No. 2-ranked schedule according to USA Today. What else do you want from us? That’s my question.”
Knight senior guard Talon Shumway added: “Now that state is over, that is what we want. We want them to give it to us. I don’t see any way they could take it from us. I think we showed everyone. We were dang good.”
Lone Peak probably has the vote of most of the teams it has played.
In going 27-1 (with the one loss coming to Florida’s Montverde Academy in the City of Palms Tournament), the Knights have been dominant. Lone Peak averaged 70.2 points per game, while allowing just 44.8 ppg.
While Saturday’s championship contest ended up nearly precisely matching that standard, it was remarkably close at halftime.
Lone Peak held a 32-18 edge but the Hawks had remained relatively close because of their physical defense and execution.
“They run their stuff really well and it took us about a quarter to really lock in to what they were doing,” Lewis said. “Once we did, we were in good shape. In the second half, we went to a zone, which was more about keeping guys out of foul trouble. They had trouble with it.”
But in the second half, the Knights did what they’ve been doing all year long. With defense, passing and balance, Lone Peak increased the separation until the outcome was clear.
“We weren’t clicking in the first half as well as we usually do,” said Knight senior Connor Toolson. “But we got it going in the second half and picked up the defense.”
Since most of those in attendance were fairly confident in which team would win, the title game became a chance to watch a special group of Lone Peak players highlight their skills at a high school level one final time.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” said Knight junior T.J. Haws. “It’s been such a blast with these guys. Being able to share it with them is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Each of the Knight starters finished the championship scoring in double figures and has developed certain signature moves — all of which were displayed Saturday afternoon.
There was Emery, the state’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers, pulling up from 10 feet beyond the 3-point line and hitting nothing but net.
“His signature move is definitely the pull-up 3-pointers,” Toolson said. “He loves to shoot those.”
Mika’s shot-blocking ability and rebounding were crucial, but it was those jaw-dropping dunks of his that will always be remembered.
“Eric has come a long way,” Emery said. “He’s one of the toughest guys I know and one of the hardest workers I know.”
Haws had his versatility on display as he dished out eight assists but his aggressive drives to the basket included an acrobatic reverse layup that he spun perfectly off the glass.
“He’s the skinny redhead who balls,” Shumway said. “What he looks like speaks for itself. But he does everything out there.”
Shumway, the future BYU football player, once again showed off his athleticism as he stared down a defender, then elevated to drain the shot.
“He plays with such hustle and effort,” Haws said. “He doesn’t care who gets the glory. He just wants to win.”
While Toolson might be the one who sometimes gets overlooked, his silky-smooth touch from downtown was on display as he knocked down two more big 3-pointers.
“He is the most clutch corner 3-point shooter I have ever seen,” Mika said. “His offensive rebounding is also superb. He probably has more of them during the season than I do and I’m six inches taller. I love how hard he works.”
Lewis explained that each of those players brought something different and significant to the 2012-13 Lone Peak squad.
He said Toolson sacrifices for the team, offensive rebounds and makes big shots, while Shumway is a big-game player who rises to the occasion and is the best defensive player.
He talked about how Haws didn’t score as much but got all the assists and has a total game, and then said it was “unbelievable” that Emery played with the broken thumb and added that you won’t find any greater competitor.
Finally, he lauded Mika’s work ethic, what he did to prepare when he sat out a year, and then praised his overall season.
In the end, that combination of skills proved to be nearly unbeatable as Lone Peak became the fifth school in Utah history to win three straight boys basketball titles, and the only one to ever do it in Class 5A.
“It’s incredible,” Shumway said. “I just like winning them probably because I hate losing even more than I like winning. It’s been a great run.”
Even flushed with the thrill of their championship run, the Knight players said Saturday it will be hard to see their remarkable run draw to a close.
“It’s not going to be the same because it won’t be the same group of guys,” Mika said. “It was pretty special finishing it off right with them.”
Emery added: “It’s emotional because that’s my love out there. Growing up with these guys and putting all the hours in, it’s a special moment.”
Lewis said when those players came off the court for the last time in the title game Saturday, he saw it as the culmination of something that began when Emery was a third-grader.
“It was my first basketball camp, the first one I ever ran at Lone Peak,” he recalled. “He came all the way through the program. Seeing it come to fruition and how hard all the kids have worked, there is nothing better than that in athletics.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.