How former Cougars, Utes and Aggies combined to form the best team in 2022 Powder League
Led by ex-Ute Parker Van Dyke, former BYU standout Zac Seljaas and a core of former Utah State players, Team Berger is the class of the third-year summer league
Former University of Utah basketball star Parker Van Dyke was trending on Utah Twitter last Wednesday night after scoring an incredible 85 points in a pro-am basketball game at Salt Lake City’s Judge Memorial Catholic High.
Van Dyke’s performance in the Powder League game was highlighted by an unbelievable outside shooting display. He was 32 of 47 from the field, including 18 of 27 from beyond the (NBA) 3-point line. He only attempted three free throws, making all three, in setting the third-year summer league’s single-game scoring record.
Some wise guys took to social media sites that night and asked how his teammates felt about him hoisting up 47 shots. The answer: They were thrilled. In the second half, when it was evident that the former East High standout had a special night going, his teammates went out of their way to get Van Dyke the ball.
“So every year, we are just kinda looking for guys that fit our team, regardless if they are a Cougar, a Ute, an Aggie or whatever.” — former Ute Parker Van Dyke on Powder League-leading Team Berger
Team Berger, as the group is known, was formed three years ago with teamwork in mind, founder Danny Berger, the former Utah State player who battled through a heart condition during his playing days in Logan, told the Deseret News before Van Dyke’s outburst.
The Powder League’s best team — Team Berger placed second in 2020, won the title last year and is 5-0 halfway through the season this year — in its three-year history is an intriguing collection of former Utah State, Utah Valley, BYU and Utah basketball players with a couple other locals sprinkled in for good measure.
In Wednesday’s 137-94 win over Team Egan, former Cougar Zac Seljaas chipped in 22 points, while Berger and UVU product Peter Brown had six points apiece. Former Aggie Sean Harris spent the night setting screens to free up Van Dyke, while Brandon Sly (Riverton High/Adams State) had 11 assists and Zavon Jackson (Westlake High/Lewis-Clark) had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Former Ute and current Aggie Rylan Jones is also on the roster but wasn’t available to play last week. Van Dyke said the collection of former college rivals clicks because it has a team-first attitude. That’s unusual in a lot of pro-am leagues, where players are just trying to get noticed by scouts and focus on individual improvement.
“Once college is over, it is just about getting the right players and putting good teams together,” Van Dyke said. “So the Utah State guys like Sean Harris, Danny Berger, Spencer Butterfield (not currently playing) are a little bit older. They have been playing in things like this for a few years and they know what they are doing.
“And then when I graduated from college, I kinda joined them. And then we got Zac this year, obviously from BYU. Rylan Jones plays with us a little bit. So every year, we are just kinda looking for guys that fit our team, regardless if they are a Cougar, a Ute, an Aggie or whatever.”
Van Dyke leads the league in scoring with a 40.4 average, while Seljaas is second at 30.6 ppg. Former BYU standout Yoeli Childs is playing in the league before he heads overseas to play and is averaging 28.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“Hopefully this year we can run it back as well,” said Van Dyke, who is returning to Germany to play professionally in a couple of weeks. “I probably won’t be here for the championship, but hopefully the majority of our other guys will be here to win it again.”
Berger, who played for USU from 2011-14, also played professionally in Germany for a couple of years. He is now living in Salt Lake City and working for Abbott, selling pacemakers and defibrillators, in addition to building solid pro-am teams.
Combining former college rivals “is not a big deal,” he said. “What’s important is getting guys who play for the team, and not for individual glory.”
Another Team Berger cornerstone, Harris, who played for the Aggies from 2012-15, doesn’t hesitate when asked to outline the reasons for the team’s success.
“Danny said, ‘Let’s put together a team that can play good basketball, and is a little bit more experienced, and is not trying to go one-on-one all the time but is into team ball,” Harris said. “And we wanted a team where everyone can shoot, because it is the NBA 3-point line here.”
Harris has been playing overseas for six or seven years in two different stints. After a couple of years abroad, he returned to Utah and worked for a couple of software companies. But he got “the itch” to go back and has played overseas the last two years.
“The NBA-range 3-pointer makes a big difference, because most guys aren’t used to shooting that,” Harris said. “So we put a team together the first year, and then slowly but surely we have been getting more people. We got Zac Seljaas this year. He’s been a big addition. He’s the big dog.
“We just get to know players. We seek guys out and if we see a guy who really looks like he knows how to play, we try to get him,” he continued. “We look a lot at basketball IQ rather than straight-up ability. … And no one cares about how many shots they get. No one cares about their highlights. We just all come out and want to win.”
Neema Namdar, one of the league’s founders, said although Team Berger is undefeated, the league is more competitive all-around this year.
“Team Berger has come out really hot. They have been in some close games, but at the end of the games, they have been able to close out better than anyone else,” Namdar said. “But the teams this year are a lot more evenly matched, overall.”
Except when Van Dyke is doing his thing.
Team Egan threw everything they could at him Wednesday, to no avail. Former Ute Tim Drisdom, who spent the last five years coaching at Intermountain Christian School and also has a team in the Powder League, said he’s got no problem with having former Utes and Cougars joining forces.
“That is kinda where the game is right now,” Drisdom said. “You see it at all the levels. Guys are friends and I think BYU and Utah fans probably take (the rivalry) a lot more seriously than the players. I think it has been that way for a lot longer than anybody wants to admit.”
Wednesday night, Seljaas carried Team Berger in the first quarter, then Van Dyke took over.
“Basketball is such a small world. It is fun to play with Zac, even if he’s a BYU guy,” Harris said, laughing. “Let’s be honest: He can knock down shots, he can go to the rim, he plays hard defense. He is an all-around player. And he plays smart. He has already had a successful career professionally and he is going to have even more success just because he’s a really good player.”
Seljaas said he loves the makeup of the team, even if he’s BYU’s only representative.
“It is awesome. I mean, you kinda learn a lot from guys who have played in the state of Utah,” he said. “It is fun to just learn from each other, especially at a professional level.”
Seljaas said Team Berger’s emphasis on running plays, playing defense and duplicating the kind of disciplined basketball they played in college appealed to him when he was a summer league free agent, of sorts.
“It is more fun to play team ball,” Seljaas said. “We like to play in it and win it because we are very competitive. We want to win. No matter what it is, even if it is a rec game, we want to win. And we kinda run things the way that each of us would play professionally. It has always been fun.”
Seljaas, who played for BYU from 2015-20, played in the country of Georgia, part of the old Soviet Union, last year. He said it was a “great experience,” but he is currently a free agent looking for another opportunity to play overseas.
“I have some options,” he said. “I am just waiting to see what the best one is and am taking it day by day and looking for the right fit.”
Seljaas and his wife, Kate, have two little boys — Royce and Bjorn — have to consider their young family in all the decisions they make regarding his playing in a foreign country.
Deciding which summer league team to play for, meanwhile, has been a no-brainer.