Region 4 boys basketball preview: Lone Peak head coach Rob Ross ready for new challenge
The Lone Peak boys program has a monumentally high level of expectations every season, having won eight state titles since 2005 including taking the 6A crown last March.
Thus it might be a daunting task for a new head coach to take over a team that has done extremely well first under head coach Quincy Lewis and then under David Evans.
But new Knight head coach Rob Ross is uniquely aware of both the benefits and challenges of coaching basketball at Lone Peak.
“It is a unique place in some ways,” Ross said Tuesday after the Knights edged Timpanogos, 64-63, in his first game at the helm. “Lone Peak has high expectations in everything. I learned a lot from Quincy and Dave on how they handled things. I’m just following in their footsteps. The fact that the kids and parents expect to be great is something that makes Lone Peak special.”
Ross has been a part of Knight basketball for 20 years, but said he never expected to be at the helm.
“It’s been interesting for me,” Ross said. “I wasn’t in it to be a high school coach, but we wanted to maintain what Quincy and Dave established. I love the culture at Lone Peak, which is one of opportunity. I knew it was a special place.”
Having a longtime assistant become the head coach made things easy for the players, junior forward Josh Jackson said.
“Rob Ross is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, both on and off the court,” Jackson said. “He’s very intelligent and knows the game,but he is also great to all the players. He is someone you want to work for and play hard for.”
Jackson said Ross’s mentality is exemplified by how he uses little competitions to make things fun for the athletes.
“He loves to make little bets,” Jackson said. “Whether it is on half-court shots or on whether the whole team can make consecutive free throws, he keeps things light and fun.”
Ross grinned when asked about the little challenges, including the free throw competition.
“We’ve told the guys that if all 10 players make a free throw, there will be a big prize,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve ever gotten past seven in a row, so we’re safe so far.”
While he might have added some of his own little nuances, Ross said he doesn’t feel any need to make dramatic changes to put his own stamp on the program.
“Lone Peak plays a fun brand of basketball,” Ross said. “We play pressure defense, we push the ball, we want anyone who is open to shoot the ball. We’re going to carry on with what we’ve done but put a few twists in.”
He explained that when he took the job, one of the main points from the Lone Peak administration was to be a big part of the school.
“We as a staff want our team to be good members of our community,” Ross said. “Our players are in a position where they can help other kids off the court, while on the court we want to be confident and aggressive.”
Ross and the Knights know that once again Region 4 will be an intense battle as many of the state’s best 6A teams are in their league.
Here’s a look at the four Utah Valley boys basketball teams in Utah Valley:
Head coach: Rob Ross (first year)
2017-18 record: 8-0 in 6A Region 4, 23-4 overall
Playoffs: Defeated Pleasant Grove, 61-44, in 6A championship
Players to Watch: Jaxon Pollard (Sr. F), Noah Smithson (Sr. G), Corbin Zentner (Jr. G)
Outlook: The Knights lost a huge amount of scoring and experience from the 2017-18 state championship team, but this is a program that always has guys waiting for their opportunity.
“What makes this team special is that they understand that to reach their goals they have to be a team,” head coach Rob Ross said. “Lone Peak has had unbelievable athletes who can just take over a game but these kids understand they have to play together. We have skilled players, but they can’t necessarily dominate by themselves.”
Leading the way will be Jaxon Pollard, a gifted athlete with Division I offers, but he will have plenty of guys around him who will battle defensively and can knock down shots.
Head coach: Randy McAllister
2017-18 record: 5-3 in 6A Region 4, 21-6 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Lone Peak, 61-44, in 6A championship
Players to Watch: Matt Van Komen (Sr. C), Casey Brown (Sr. G), Kawika Akina (Sr. G)
Outlook: Considering how much talent Pleasant Grove has returning from the team that made it to the 6A title game, it isn’t surprising that the Vikings are labeled as the favorites.
“It’s not every year that a team has its top five scorers and 83 percent of its offense returning,” head coach Randy McAllister said. “Having the big guy in the middle back will also help defensively, so we are excited about the year. Now we have to execute and perform.”
McAllister said the key for his team to reach its lofty potential is to not get caught up in the hype but to drill down in the day-to-day work. He said the Pleasant Grove coaches won’t hesitate to remind the Vikings that they didn’t win their final game last year and have to work to change that this season.
Head coach: Nate Carling
2017-18 record: 2-6 in 6A Region 4, 12-13 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Layton, 68-65, in 6A quarterfinals
Players to Watch: Jared McGregor (Sr. G), Austin White (Sr. G), Drake Allen (Sr. G)
Outlook: The Thunder enter the 2018-19 season needing to get big performances from their experienced guard line, particularly after senior forward Cooper Mattson got hurt in the summer.
“Our strengths are our experience and our ability to shoot the ball,” head coach Nate Carling said. “We are in good shape with a senior-heavy team. We have big expectations but our league is as good as it has ever been.”
He said the next step for Westlake is to find and establish a defensive identity early in the season. It’s still a work in progress, but if it can catch up to the Thunder offense, this will be a dangerous team.
Head coach: Ryan Cuff (first year)
2017-18 record: 2-6 in 6A Region 4, 12-13 overall
Playoffs: Lost to Westlake, 48-45, in the Region 4 play-in game
Players to Watch: Isaac Johnson (Sr. F), Trey Stewart (Sr. G), Tanner Cuff (Sr. G)
Outlook: There is no doubt that the Cavemen have the talent to compete with anyone in the state but the challenge for former Dixie head coach Ryan Cuff is to come in and create a cohesive unit.
“I love this team but we still have a lot of work to do,” Cuff said. “It’s key for us to stay together and trust each other. We need to rebound, share the ball and run the floor.”
With talented senior forward Isaac Johnson as the focal point and some excellent shooters on the perimeter, American Fork has good offensive pieces to work with. Cuff is known for tough defense, so if the Cavemen buy in this will be a tough team to beat.