OREM — Half a decade ago it felt right to create and host a national basketball tournament for high school talent and stage it in Orem. Today, it appears to be a visionary move, a Midas touch for Golden Holt, the organizer and Orem High School’s basketball coach.
This week comes another addition of the FreeTaxUSA.com Shootout in Orem and this time it’s gone international with the inclusion of a team from Vancouver, Canada.
The Shootout kicks off Thursday and concludes Saturday at Orem High. It will feature teams from Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Canada and Utah.
“The biggest draw of this event is the caliber of players on the court,” said Holt. Past tourney alumni include Duke freshman Frank Jackson; Melo Trimble, a junior at Maryland; Alterique Gilbert, a UConn freshman; De’Ron Davis of Indiana; BYU starters Eric Mika, Nick Emery, and TJ Haws; Utah State freshman Koby McEwen and Conner Toolson at Utah Valley.
“It was fun to see that BYU-Utah State game at Vivint the other night when, at one time, there were four players on the court who played in this event,” said Holt, who indicated there were eight players on both rosters who had been in the Free TaxUSA tournament.
If you are inclined to see some great hoops this week, mark this on your calendar.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the top talent this year:
Smoky Hills, Colorado, features the No. 1 player in that state, 6-foot-4 guard Kenny Foster, who is being recruited by Colorado and Stanford and averages 19 points a game. His teammate is 6-8 forward Will Becker, ranked the No. 4 player in Colorado.
Wasatch Academy in Utah, which featured USU’s McEwen last year, has Emmanuel Akot, a 6-7 forward listed as the top player in Utah. He’s rated the No. 12 player in the country by Scout.com and has offers from Louisville, Utah and Arizona. Josip Vrankic is a 6-8 senior who plays the post for Wasatch and though he’s had 32 offers, he has committed to Santa Clara in the WCC.
At Christian Academy in British Columbia, Canada, Kaan Tari is a 6-9 center who is the No. 18 player in that country and is known for making plays above the rim.
Lone Peak High returns and is led by forward Nate Harkness and Stephen Ashworth, a point guard who played a year ago in the shadow of Frank Jackson. He made 45 treys a year ago.
Mountain View High in Mesa, Arizona is a school that gave BYU quarterbacks John Beck and Max Hall as well as linebacker Todd Shell. That school's hoop squad now features forward Nick Sessions, Jared Finkenkeller and guard Matt Clark.
The host school, Orem, features Puka Nacua, the younger brother of BYU safety Kai and Utah’s lineman Sampson Nacua. A sophomore, he is getting attention as a football and basketball player. Ross Reeves is a junior guard who made 6 three-pointers and is expected to be one of the top outside shooters in the state.
Cross-town rival Timpview High has guard Hunter Erickson, an athletic junior with a great shooting touch. His coach, Kevin Santiago, believes he may be the top junior in Utah.
Princeton Hall brings in 6-foot-4 Tyler James, a freshman shooting guard from New York City who played in the Under Armour Circuit and his coach, John McCrimmon, believes he will climb into the nation’s Top 100 before his career is over.
Faty Gueye, a junior for Princeton, is a 7-foot-1 forward who wasn’t in Princeton Hall’s program last year, but ACC schools are beginning to show interest in him.
“It continues to be a showcase of some great talent,” said Holt.
“That Vancouver team has several seven-footers on their team and the smallest player is 6-5. They have some talent they’ve brought over from Europe and they are getting a lot of attention.”
So, if holiday shopping pressure is making you cross-eyed, this may be a stop for a break.
Remember, the MVP from this event a year ago, Jackson from Lone Peak, has started three games for Duke and is averaging 16 points a game.