American Fork senior Tanner Cuff has a quiet way about him, speaking clearly and concisely while not being overly talkative.
That approach might seem like it would make it harder to assimilate in a new situation, like Cuff had to do in 2018 when his dad, Ryan Cuff, decided to take over as the head coach of the Cavemen and move his family to American Fork.
“Tanner doesn’t like to bring a lot of attention to himself,” Ryan Cuff said. “He does a lot with his actions. He’s always done that and is more laid-back. Tanner knew it wasn’t going to be easy but trusted things would work out.”
But Tanner Cuff brought something to the team that the Cavemen needed: a teamwork mentality.
“I felt like I didn’t have to score as much, that I could share the ball and make my teammates look good,” Tanner Cuff said. “They made me look good by me making them look good. I like getting assists more than scoring, making a good pass to one of my teammates for a 3-pointer or a dunk. I feel better after giving an assist.”
That proved to be an essential ingredient as American Fork took a tremendously talented group of individuals and became an elite team.
“When you are unselfish, often times those things come back to you,” Ryan Cuff said. “I feel that is what happened. Tanner came in without an agenda. He was humbled to be playing with such good players, so he leaned on his assists and being a teammate that way. It got the guys around him to do the same. One of the most rewarding things for a coach is when you look back and see that you averaged close to 20 assists per game. That says a lot about your basketball team, that they were unselfish. I think Tanner was a big leader of that.”
For his role as a catalyst and performance throughout the season, the Daily Herald is proud to honor Tanner Cuff as the 2019 Utah Valley Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“I’m honored,” Tanner Cuff said. “It’s awesome. It’s a cool accomplishment.”
Both Ryan and Tanner Cuff were quick to point out that none of Tanner’s success would’ve been possible without the support and acceptance of the rest of the Caveman squad.
“Tanner accomplished what he did because he had teammates around him that supported him and believed in him,” Ryan Cuff said. “Each guy played extremely well for us to win.”
Tanner Cuff said that American Fork seniors Isaac Johnson, Trey Stewart and Hayden Franson as well as freshman Noah Moeaki made him look good.
“They are great players,” he said. “It was fun to play with them. I’m so glad I moved up here and had the opportunity to play with all these great players. I had the opportunity to make new friends with them and win a state championship with them. It’s been a good year.”
He remembered coming in as a newcomer and dealing with the natural frictions.
“Right when we moved here I got on Trey and Isaac’s club team,” Tanner Cuff said. “We went to a few tournaments and I got to know them better. At first we didn’t like each other as much, but we had to make it work. I love them all now.”
He remembered an open gym battle against Stewart when both guys got into it and started yelling at each other, then just went after each other on the court.
“There were lots of obstacles,” Tanner Cuff said. “I didn’t like playing against Trey or Isaac but when we got to play on the same team, it was fun.”
As the summer progressed and then the team got going in the fall to prepare for the season, things started to come together. As the season began, Tanner and Ryan Cuff started to see how things were going to work.
“We played at Westlake in late January and I believe we had 27 assists,” Ryan Cuff said. “The Thunder coaching staff complimented Tanner on being an unselfish player but we walked away from that game realizing we really had something special.”
There were still some bumps in the road, including a loss to Kearns and a pair of tough losses to top-ranked Pleasant Grove.
“We believed we could win,” Tanner Cuff said. “We knew we didn’t play as well as we wanted to and that if we took care of things, we could beat them.”
Cuff elevated his game in the 6A state tournament, scoring 68 total points, grabbing 24 total rebounds, dishing out 23 total assists and tacking on 11 total steals.
“I think things went as I wanted them to,” Tanner Cuff said. “It was fun to play and win those games. They were exciting games.”
The biggest moment was in the semifinal battle against Davis that went to triple overtime. All four of the other starters fouled out and Cuff scored the final 16 points — including the game-winner — to help the Cavemen advance.
“That was crazy,” Tanner Cuff said. “It was surreal. I was so scared when all of the starters fouled out. It didn’t feel real.”
That set the stage for American Fork to avenge the earlier losses to the Vikings, getting the victory to win the 6A state title and cap his high school career with a championship.
“I had a conversation with him where I said, ‘I know you have a goal to play at the next level but focus on having the best senior year you can have and that stuff will take care of itself,’” Ryan Cuff said. “I think he really did dive into focusing everything he had to have the best year ever.”
Tanner Cuff is now awaiting his mission call to serve for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he returns from the two-year mission, he plans to play basketball for Utah State-Eastern in Price, Utah.
He said he feels like he needs to improve his defense to play at the next level but that his understanding of the game will serve him well.
Tanner Cuff went through a lot of ups and downs during his senior year but he said he learned that the best approach was to stay positive and give it everything he had.