Region 10 boys basketball preview: Skyhawks look to rebuild with new head coach
Blake Francom had been working at Salem Hills High School as a teacher, assistant football coach and as an assistant girls basketball coach with his brother, Skyhawk head coach Kyle Francom — but he felt ready to take the next step and run his own program.
The former Payson High basketball star started looking at leaving to go to a new school, but then a golden opportunity opened up.
“I’d worked with Kyle for six years,” Blake Francom said. “I loved Salem Hills and wanted to stay there. When I found out the (former Skyhawk boys basketball coach) Jimmy DeGraffenreid was stepping down, I decided it was a great opportunity to go for it.”
Blake Francom said it helped that he had coached many of the Salem Hills players in football and also had them in his classes.
“I knew this was a great group of kids,” he said. “The biggest thing was for them to know me. I’ve been around, watching them play. We all benefited from having that familiarity.”
With his knowledge of the Skyhawk program, he was cognizant of some of the challenges he would face.
On the one hand, Salem Hills was coming off its first 4A state championship — but on the other, many of the contributors from that team had graduated.
“It’s definitely an interesting dynamic,” Blake Francom said. “We are coming off the ultimate high as a program, but we lost the majority of our players. We appreciate the past, but had to recognize that we are a different team. We understand everyone is gunning for us as the defending champs, but for us it is about progression. That’s my big focus.”
Skyhawk senior guard David Jones is one of the only players who saw a lot of time on the floor last season and said that there is some adaptation going on.
“It will take some time,” Jones said. “We are getting used to things and getting better. We’re just going to work.”
Jones described Blake Francom as a level-headed coach who is always in control and never loses his temper.
The Salem Hills coach admitted that he is still figuring out how things work as a head coach.
“When we shot 20 percent against Juan Diego (in the season-opener), I realized that all of this is on me,” Blake Francom said.
He said his goal is to maintain a lot of what DeGraffenreid did with establishing the Skyhawk culture, but still do things his own way.
“Jimmy did a great job, so we aren’t doing things vastly different than he did,” Blake Francom said. “The scheme will have some differences, as we will install the way I like to guard and play. We installed it in just eight or nine practices, so we knew there would be some hiccups. We are carrying on what Jimmy did in terms of being a family and taking care of each other.”
Salem Hills will face a number of tough challenges as they compete in Region 10 with a number of talented area teams.
Here’s a look at each of the Class 4A teams in Utah Valley:
Head coach: Sean Yeager
2017-18 record: 5-7 in 4A Region 10, 10-13 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Juan Diego, 75-50, in 4A first round
Players to Watch: Kevin Winsor (Sr. G), McKay Wall (Jr. G), Oakley Krumvieda (Sr. G)
Outlook: The Pioneers have a different look in 2018-19 but the same fundamentals will determine how things go this winter.
“We’re not as big this year but we have some guys who can really fill it up,” head coach Sean Yeager said. “None of that matters unless we can play smart defensively with a lot of intensity. If we have the mindset collectively that strong defense keeps us in every game, we’ll be competitive.”
Lehi knows that it’s not going to be easy as every game in league play presents its own challenges. Yeager emphasized that his team better be ready to play at a high level in every game.
Head coach: Alan Groves
2017-18 record: 4-8 in 4A Region 10, 5-17 overall
Players to Watch: JR Hayes (Sr. F), Ben Mella (Jr. G), Tai White (Jr. G)
Outlook: Anyone watching Mountain View play basketball better be ready for a frantic, exhaustive experience as the Bruins are going to try to turn the game into a wild scramble.
“We are very competitive,” head coach Alan Groves said. “Everyone on this team desires to win so much and are willing to do whatever we ask. I love that as a coach. We challenge them to get multiple stops in a row and we have a team that has bought in to that.”
He said that his team doesn’t have a lot of size so the biggest key for them will be being able to knock down shots. They are going to play an up-and-down style and force opponents to keep up with them.
Head coach: Golden Holt
2017-18 record: 11-1 in 4A Region 10, 21-6 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Juan Diego, 57-40, in 4A semifinals
Players to Watch: Puka Nacua (Sr. G), Shem Johnson (Sr. F), Ike Richards (Sr. F)
Outlook: The Tigers not only have a senior-heavy roster this year but they also have a chip on their shoulder after not reaching their own lofty expectations last year.
“Many of these players were here as freshmen, so this is a special group for me,” head coach Golden Holt said. “We are going to do our best as coaches to get out of their way. We emphasize freedom and want to let them play.”
He believes that Orem will be very, very good whenever they are playing their best, but said the Tigers also have to learn how to play and win when games are ugly. He said that their defensive performance will determine whether his guys will do that successfully.
Head coach: Anthony Mitchell
2017-18 record: 7-5 in 4A Region 10, 14-10 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Sky View, 63-48, in 4A quarterfinals
Players to Watch: Logan Sorensen (Sr. F), Kade Rowley (Sr. G), Conner Bateman (Sr. G)
Outlook: The Lions come into 2018 with only one returning starter from the team that finished third in Region 10 last season.
Payson does have some talented players and will likely again play tough defense, so opponents better be ready to grind it out — particularly when they play at Payson.
Head coach: Blake Francom (first year)
2017-18 record: 11-1 in 4A Region 10, 20-7 overall
Playoffs: Defeated Juan Diego, 64-55, in 4A state championship
Players to Watch: David Jones (Sr. G), Ty Bailey (Jr. G), Carson Peterson (Sr. G)
Outlook: The Skyhawks will need to rebuild with many new players and a new coach this season.
“We have to be learn to be consistent on offense,” head coach Blake Francom said. “We aren’t a very experienced team. Hopefully we will learn and get better.”
Salem Hills features a guard who can be dynamic and explosive in David Jones, but the Skyhawks will need the rest of the roster to figure out their roles and excel in them to reach its potential this year.
Head coach: Ryan Kunzler
2017-18 record: 4-8 in 4A Region 10, 9-13 overall
Players to Watch: Brandon Congdon (Sr. G), Tanner Olsen (Sr. G), Hunter Nielson (Sr. G)
Outlook: The Dons have brought together a group of young men with a variety of interests and talents but molded them into a close-knit basketball team.
“That drives us as a team,” head coach Ryan Kunzler said. “We play hard and do things right together.”
Spanish Fork has some nice players, which means the success of the Dons will come down to being a solid defensive team — particularly inside — and also not letting emotions get in the way.