Fans rush the court in overtime thriller in first Huskies hardwood win, region play to beginJan 03, 2022 03:02PM ● By Julie Slama
Hillcrest High coaches and players react to the game-tying score, sending the game into overtime. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
With less than three seconds in regulation, 6-foot-5-inch junior Micah Madry rebounded and put the ball in the hoop to send the Hillcrest High versus Herriman High game into overtime.
“He made a huge shot,” head coach Brandon Sluga said. “I don’t know if I drew anything up very well, but I wanted Micah, his big strong body, close to the hoop, and that worked out OK where the ball bounced, and he tipped it in just as the buzzer was sounding. That was a huge shot and gave us that chance we needed to get to overtime.”
After the shot went in, the homestand fans and his teammate’s roars echoed off the new arena, but Sluga remembered, “My thought was we’re going to win the game. I didn’t have any doubt we were going to go and finish the game off. And that’s what I just told them. Those are the kind of games that you just come back, and you find a way to win.”
Husky fans stormed the court after Hillcrest won its first game of the season in overtime, 63-60.
“That’s what I would like for every experience to be like in our gym. Something that our captain (senior shooting guard) Porter Nielson talked about at the (winter sports pep rally) was that we wanted the basketball experience for the whole school to be exciting, something that they want to be a part of and that it’s fun. I think that’s exactly what happened. It was an exciting time and that’s what high school basketball should be like. Regardless of whether we win or lose, I hope we play with that fervor and the kids can feel it and want to come back for more,” Sluga said.
Coming off that first game, Sluga was complimentary about passes made from junior point guard Maddux Albers to free throws made at the end of the game by Albers, Madry and senior point guard Solomon Sebresos.
“We shot 78% from the foul line. The first half we were getting to the line, but we weren’t shooting at that clip. We just told them you’re going to make those in the second half. You’ve been practicing, you’ve been shooting well in practice, so just compose yourself and go knock the foul shots down for your team and they did a heck of a job of that,” he said. “I think something that surprised maybe some of the boys on the team or surprised people in the stands was Solomon Barrows’s play. He had more steals than he did points. He’s just all over the floor, and he’s the kind of kid that glues your team together. He doesn’t really care how much he scores, although he can score, and he will do anything you ask him to. At one point, he was guarding a 6-foot-5-inch kid and the kid was trying to post him up, and got him one time, but that’s all. He’s a small kid, but he has a big heart and toughness, and he makes up for his size with how hard he plays.”
After the game, Sluga said, “We compliment them, we praise them for what they did, we reinforce we got to do this again throughout the season. Then, we critique and teach and reteach and figure out what we got to get better at from watching the film or from our evaluation as a coaching staff.”
Hillcrest, who graduated three starters and six seniors, begins region play in January facing mostly new teams this year in 5A region 7, where Sluga said it’s “a region where anybody could win on any night.” He sees Payson and Cottonwood having an edge up on the other teams, but Stansbury “returns players from a good team last year,” already “Cedar Valley upset Timpview, Uintah is always tough, and Tooele is one of the toughest places to play.”
“We’re going to have to beat people with quickness in some games. I think that’s a big deal for us. I think if we’re shorter and not quicker, then the thing we’re going to rely on the most is just trying to play five on five, not one on one, and that’s where we’re trying to teach our kids how to play team basketball,” he said.
Affirming his belief in team basketball, Sluga, a former walk-on for the University of Utah under Rick Majerus, brought in his college teammate Andre Miller in June, who played in the NBA for 17 years, to talk to the team.
Players appreciated hearing stories about the great players, Sluga said, but Miller shared “regardless of the great players or great coaches they have had, our favorite coach, the coach that taught us the most was our college coach. A lot of the guys that are on my coaching staff, and those guys that played in the NBA were kind of cut from the same cloth. He told them ‘trust your coaches, they know what they’re talking about, they care about you, listen to them, they’ve got a lot to offer.’”
Along with Sluga, returning coaches are his assistant, Jeff Myaer, a former Phillies minor-league pitcher “who has been successful in every sport he’s coached” from AAU basketball to state titles at Judge Memorial High in basketball and baseball; and Caleb Davis, “my right-hand man for X’s and O’s and providing statistics.”
New to the coaching team are all former Utes: Andy Tanner, Richard Chaney and Jay Watkins.
“They’ve played professionally and that goes a long way to being a good coach. They can come in and teach me things and I have no problem learning from my staff. That’s an asset,” Sluga said.
The Huskies had 80 students try out for the team, which Sluga said, “I think that’s great that kids want to play. It tells me there’s a little buzz in the school that boys’ basketball is exciting and you’re going to enjoy your experience there if you go play.”
He was especially happy with how many younger kids came to try out.
“We were able to pick some kids that we didn’t really know much about and they’re doing a good job for our younger levels,” he said, adding that the Bantam league in middle school has three teams playing per grade at the fifth- through eighth-grade levels. “We want to keep kids playing and give them an opportunity to grow and get better.”
After the team was announced, Sluga brought in another Ute teammate, Michael Doleac, who won a NBA title while on the Miami Heat.
“Michael talked about building a culture and how important it was to us at Utah, but also to the guys here on our staff, that the culture we’re trying to build it’s about basketball, but it goes beyond that,” Sluga said. “The caring that we have for each other and the relationships we build, those are things that you’re going to take with you as you move forward in life.”