OREM — The mark of a good team is how well it improves throughout the course of the season. This year's UVSC men's basketball squad capped off its first year as a Division I team playing its best basketball of the season, winning 22 of its final 23 games.
"I'd have to say as we wound down the season, we were playing our best basketball of the year," UVSC coach Dick Hunsaker said. "I'm not sure if we could have played a lot better."
Utah Valley finished its inaugural year in Division I basketball with a 23-5 record. Since the Wolverines were a non-counter this year, they were forced to pack their bags and play 19 road games compared with only nine home contests against a slew of NAIA and Division I, II and III schools.
UVSC went 15-4 in its 19 road games and 8-1 at home. Its only home loss came against DivisionII national champion Kennesaw State, coached by former BYU coach Tony Ingle.
"I don't know frankly if you could have scripted a much better transitional season into four-year Division I basketball," Hunsaker said.
Hunsaker called this year a process, in that every player had to develop his identity early in the year and learn new roles.
"It was a real growing process," the Wolverine coach said.
No player grew as much this year as Ronnie Price. The UVSC guard earned first-team Division I Independent All-American honors and led Utah Valley in nearly every statistical category. He averaged 20 points, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
"I'm not sure he is not the most improved player," Hunsaker said. "He made tremendous strides in the nuances of being a quality player, understanding when to shoot, ball skills and passing skills. I just thought there was so much improvement on the mental side."
Price wasn't the only player who made giant strides this year. Hunsaker said he saw improvement in every player on the team.
"I couldn't point to any one player and say he underachieved this season," Hunsaker said. "I thought everybody made big steps. The team had a lot of camaraderie on it, maybe as much as any team I've coached."
Hunsaker did say the most underscored player was point guard Pierre Thomas.
"He never quite got his due for running the team," Hunsaker said. "He had a load of responsibility to get us in the offense, to rebound and probably had the most dramatic change in roles from a year ago."
Hunsaker is losing center Brett Ravenburg and guard Ryan Toolson to LDS missions but expects to return the bulk of his team next year when it plays a full Division I schedule. A key for this year's success to continue next year will be for the team to identify its roles early.
"Hopefully we'll have the continuity," Hunsaker said. "We are not going to have the luxury of having a growing process because we are going to be feet to the fire every night. We're simply going to have to be better prepared to come out of the blocks."
Hunsaker has already signed Josh Cottle, the 3A MVP out of Wasatch High, and expects to sign a few more players during the spring signing period.
Hunsaker also said that his schedule is 80 percent complete. Already, UVSC has 12 home games. By the time the schedule is complete, Hunsaker hopes to have 14-15 games at the McKay Center. Late in the season, UVSC will play home-and-home series with the other Division I independent schools.