Defending champs led by offensive firepower
Jan 19, 2017 05:16PM ● Published by Travis Barton
Senior Matt Lindsey looks to score against Hillcrest on Jan. 13 at Olympus High School. Linsey finished the game with 14 points. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
Gallery: Olympus Boys Basketball [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
After winning its first state championship in program history a year ago, the Olympus High School boys basketball team is taking every team’s best shot this season in an effort to knock down the champs.
“There’s a lot of pressure and prestige that comes with that, but you’re going to take people’s best shot, you gotta be ready to go and that’s the beauty of it. That’s what’s fun,” said Head Coach Matt Barnes.
While the team may have a target on its back, it is a target the Titans program earned long before winning its state title.
The last time Olympus didn’t make it to at least the quarterfinals of the state tournament was 2010, and they’ve finished in the top two of their region six of the last seven seasons.
“We have a good program and great history where there’s been a lot of good teams over the years and a lot of success, so I think a lot of times we already have that target on our back,” Barnes said.
For senior Travis Wagstaff, it makes it fun. “Everyone wants to beat us, give us their hardest (game). But that’s kind of the fun of it, playing against the best,” Wagstaff said.
Having proven their mettle so far, the Titans are 13-2 (4-0 in region) as of Jan. 17, with its two losses coming in early December at the Utah Elite 8 competition in American Fork.
“We had a hard early preseason trying to assimilate a couple of new guys, trying to find our chemistry … We had a lot to learn and figure out, but we’ve really grown a lot since then,” Barnes said.
That growth has led to Olympus being one of the highest scoring teams in the state, averaging 74 points per game with four different players averaging double figures.
“The beauty of our team is we have so many guys that can score,” Barnes said. He gave one example where Wagstaff scored five points against Murray only to explode three days later with 24 points against Hillcrest.
“It’s kind of whoever’s hot, we give them the ball. You can’t leave us open, anyone can make a shot,” Wagstaff said of the team’s offensive mindset.
With up to four or five lethal shooters just in the starting lineup, players said it makes them difficult to guard.
“We can do different things: shooting, driving (to the basket), we have quickness and athleticism, a big guy who can really pass (junior Alex Cutler),” said sophomore Jeremy Dowdell, who is averaging almost 14 points per game. “So many different options, so we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
Offensively, the Titans system calls for lots of movement, with players reading and reacting to what the defense is giving them.
“Some nights you’re getting a lot of shots and some nights its more screening, but that’s the beauty of how we play in our offense,” Barnes said. “It gives everyone opportunities, lot of guys off the bench that can come in and contribute. It’s a nice luxury to have.”
Though the team enjoys a barrage of riches offensively, Barnes noted that if they are to achieve their goals of a region and eventual state championship, they must overcome a lack of size.
“Offensively we have enough pieces in place to make a good run of things, but it’s on the defensive side and the rebounding side that’s gonna be an emphasis,” Barnes said.
Another essential component is team chemistry, something the team said they have naturally built throughout the season. With many of the Titans having played together since elementary school, Dowdell said the team has been welcoming since he and sophomore Rylan Jones transferred to the school.
“Everybody’s really good friends, they’ve really taken us in,” said Dowdell, who is averaging almost 14 points a game.
Off to a hot start in region, Barnes said the team has a long way to go to reach the heights it’s capable of.
“I have high expectations, I have a high ceiling for these guys,” Barnes said. A ceiling that can include back-to-back state championships.
“That’s the ultimate goal. We think we can do it with the way we’re playing,” Dowdell said.
“I think we can make a deep run in the playoffs. It’ll be fun to see what happens,” Wagstaff said shortly before heading to breakfast with his team.