The advent of a new season always bring opportunities.
As high school boys basketball kicked off the 2019-20 at the annual Utah Valley Tip-Off Classic at the UCCU Center in Orem on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hope and anticipation of that fresh start were on full display.
Here are a few of the storylines that the two-day basketball feast highlighted:
An undefeated program
Every season brings something new at Cedar Valley High School, which opened this year. Aviator head coach Blake Pugmire it’s definitely a challenge to start a season with limited familiarity with his players.
“None of these kids had ever played varsity basketball before,” Pugmire said. “We as a program had only been together for two weeks. There were a lot of things that we haven’t put in yet. I didn’t know how we would react.”
Heading into Tuesday’s season-opener against Wasatch, he didn’t really know what would be the product on the court. When the Wasps opened up by scoring the game’s first 10 points, it looked like it could be a tough day.
“I was watching on the bench but I knew I had to be ready to play,” Cedar Valley senior Colton Smith said. “The biggest thing was intensity and effort, so as long as I gave my effort, I would be helping my team.”
But the Aviators didn’t let the poor beginning determine the outcome.
“We weathered the storm,” Pugmire said. “We could’ve just conceded but the guys fought through it and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
In the final seconds, the Aviators trailed Wasatch by a single point but had the ball.
“In the timeout we were talking about doing a high-low action and literally as we stood up to go out on the floor, we switched the play,” Pugmire said. “I turned to my assistant and said, ‘I don’t know if that was smart or not.’”
The ball went to the top of the key as Smith made a hard back-cut to the basket.
He took the pass and laid the ball up, where it hung on the rim for an eternity before falling out — but he had gotten fouled.
He said stepping up to take those pressure-packed free throws was nerve-wracking.
“There was so much going through my head,” Smith said. “What if I miss this? Is my team going to hate me if I miss this? After I made the first one, I was like, OK, the second one is going to come easy.”
Both free throws went in and then the Aviators then kept the Wasps from getting a good look, securing the 54-53 win. That victory means Cedar Valley is undefeated as a program at a sparkling 1-0.
“Coach told us that we are starting a new culture,” Smith said. “I started a culture in football and now I need to start on in basketball. I tried to bring that to the court and do my best. It’s awesome to win. It was a great way to start the season.”
Pugmire said it was a great start for the school and the Eagle Mountain community.
“It’s a fun experience,” Pugmire said. “We’re starting from scratch so to find a way to win with the question marks we have is really awesome. I’m proud of the kids.”
Back at the helm
It’s been six-and-a-half years since Perry Wildeboer stepped down as the head coach after 14 years leading the Timpview boys basketball program.
On Tuesday, he returned to the court for his first regular season game since he was hired as the head coach at Orem.
“It definitely requires a deeper perspective of commitment, that’s for sure,” Wildeboer said. “Coaching isn’t really a lot different. That’s the same. The players I coach at Orem aren’t that much different than the kids I coached at Timpview. It’s very much the same. But the coaching part of it, the basketball part of it, that’s always fun. I’ll always enjoy that. It’s hard to take that out of someone who has had a taste of it.”
He did admit that the game has changed in some regards over the years.
“A lot of evaluation goes into it, even to the point of style of basketball over time,” Wildeboer said. “The game has evolved. Making the decisions on what I want to keep that is old school and what I need to change, that can be tough.”
He said he has some young, enthusiastic assistant coaches that provide some key perspective.
“It’s been fun to analyze some of that and put in a system that will be most effective for the players I have,” Wildeboer said.
His Tigers came up just short in overtime in the season-opener against Maple Mountain on Tuesday but rolled past Wasatch in the second game on Wednesday.
“I’m always going to be a strategist,” Wildeboer said. “To me, it is a chess match. Can you counter what the other team is doing? To me, that’s a big part of what coaching is. I find joy in having good strategy, in finding a checkmate in the game.”
Believing in the team
Team cohesion in a high-stress moment is a trait all basketball players have to develop for themselves.
Maple Mountain senior Braxton Tanner proved to be a huge part of the Golden Eagle offense in 2018-19, leading the team in scoring at nearly 14 points per game.
But in Tuesday’s season-opener against Orem, he had poured in 24 points — but had only made two of his 10 3-point attempts.
With Maple Mountain trailing by 2 points in the final seconds, the question was whether the Golden Eagles would stay together and get the ball to the right spot.
It ended up coming out to Tanner, who was wide open from beyond the arc. His previous misses proved to be irrelevant as he swirled in the game-winning 3-pointer.
“It’s exciting,” Tanner said. “I can’t wait for this year. I think we’re going to be a good group of guys this year.”
He said the key was how the Golden Eagles stayed together as a unit.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to my teammate Logan Green,” Tanner said. “He came off, set a screen and gave me a good pass. I’ve got it all to my team for it’s play in overtime.”
He said starting the 2019-20 season like that shows Maple Mountain what it is capable of.
“This gives us a big boost in momentum,” Tanner said. “We put a lot of time in over the summer and so we are going to go out and play team ball.”