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High school boys basketball: 5 top Utah prep teams travel to Las Vegas to face some of nation's best

Coaches around the state believe that Utah prep basketball teams can compete with the best — regionally and even nationally. Five local boys teams will travel to Las Vegas this weekend to try to prove that notion in the Jerry Tarkanian Classic.

Lone Peak, Orem, Bountiful, Timpview and Wasatch Academy will go against top programs from Nevada, California and Pennsylvania, among several other states, in the three-day tournament, which begins Thursday.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to once again represent the state of Utah and the great brand of basketball we play here,” said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. “Most of my guys have played in a lot of tournaments like these in AAU basketball and done well, so we’re excited to go out there and represent Bountiful and the state.”

Bountiful is off to a quick 4-0 start this year and is considered by many to be the favorite to win the 4A state championship. The Braves are led by returning stars Sam Merrill and Zac Seljaas, among others. This weekend they’ll be pitted against top, and even legendary, out-of-state programs, starting with El Camino Real (Calif.) Thursday.

“I don’t think there’s a team in this tournament that isn’t a top team and that certainly appears to be the case with our first opponent,” Maxwell said. “It will be a good test for us.”

Programs like Lone Peak and Orem are well-seasoned in these types of tournaments — particularly the Knights, who traveled around the country last year as part of their national championship-winning season.

Meanwhile, the Tigers fared well themselves in tournaments last season, including the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, and are excited for this weekend’s opportunity.

“It’s an opportunity to get better as a team and that’s what you strive for as a coach,” said Orem coach Golden Holt. “Sure, it’s great to represent the state and all that, but my main focus will always be to help improve the team I coach and this tournament is a great chance to do that.”

Orem is off to a somewhat surprising 0-3 start to the season, but is looking to rebound in Las Vegas.

“We obviously have some things we have to work on. We lost to three very good teams, but I think we’re still figuring out who we are as a team and that continues this weekend,” Holt said. “These tournaments offer the type of format as a state championship, and a state championship is obviously our ultimate goal.”

Orem tips off Thursday against Coronado (Nev.), while Lone Peak will square off against Modesto Christian (Calif.) on the same day.

For Timpview coach Kevin Santiago, the Tarkanian Classic will give his team an up-close look at top programs. The Thunderbirds are off to a 2-2 start entering the tournament.

"I don't know how we'll do, but I do know it will provide some great exposure for our kids," said first-year Timpview coach Kevin Santiago. "I want the kids to see the top programs and for them to see where the top programs are at and what it takes. I believe we can be a top program here at Timpview and I think having an experience like we'll have this weekend is key to establish our goal of being a top program."

Timpview will match up against John Muir (Calif.) Thursday, while Wasatch Academy will take on San Bernardino (Calif.).


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney