OREM — Getting players acclimated to play basketball right after football season is a challenge every year for high school coaches, but particularly if those players competed until the final week of the gridiron season.
Such is the task for Orem basketball coach Golden Holt, who has several players on his team transitioning to basketball after helping the Tigers to a football state championship. But fortunately for all involved, the transition is coming along nicely, if not a little later than normal.
"It felt like for the first time tonight, after we've played four games, that our football players are starting to become basketball players," Holt said after his team defeated British Columbia Christian Academy 63-56 during Friday's play in the Vivint Great Western Shootout. "The first time we've had our whole team was five days ago, so we've been a bit rusty."
The primary players making the transition according to Holt are Shawn Anderson, Ethan Slade and Puka Nacua, all of whom played big roles for the Tigers during Friday's win. Nacua led the two-sport trio with 13 points and six assists, proving particularly effective when using his superior athleticism driving to the basket, and somewhat appropriately finished off Friday's scoring with a driving dunk at the buzzer.
"He's matured and his leadership is just so much better than last season," Holt said of Nacua. "Last year he'd get frustrated easy, pound the floor because he's super competitive. But he's just channeling his energy better than he did last year and he's not doing things to hurt the team. And yeah, he's a freaky athlete."
Orem's Ross Reeves scored a team-high 19 points.
The Tigers led throughout Friday's win, after taking an early 12-6 lead midway through the first quarter. That lead extended to 34-26 at the half, with the Tigers able to hold off whatever runs the Panthers mounted in the second half.
"During the game you want it to be a 20-point blowout so you can take a breath, but as the season goes on you're kind of happy to have these type of games. Games where the opposing team keeps responding and responding, but you're still able to hold them off," Holt said.
Orem is once again hosting the Vivint Great Western Shootout, an event which has brought a lot of great basketball to the state since its founding seven years ago.
"Teams are calling us to come, but a lot of these teams have been here before because they love it," Holt said. "And it's not just about the basketball. They have host families and they do so many things with the community. They love it and we absolutely love having them here."
It's turned into a positive experience for the in-state schools as well, according to Holt.
"We used to bring in teams from the north, but we recently decided to make it just a Utah Valley thing," Holt said. "We have great basketball tradition here, so it's been a great thing to keep it local. And then you have Wasatch Academy, which really helps us draw some top teams in here just because of what they've become as a program."
Tournament plays concludes Saturday with another four games played between the eight participating teams.