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The City Journals

Seniors headlining standout season for Huskies

Jan 27, 2017 03:11PM ● By Travis Barton

Head coach Sam Richins yells instructions to his team on Jan. 13 at Olympus High School. Richins is in his eighth year as head coach. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Enjoying one of its best seasons in years, the 2016-2017 version of the Hillcrest High School boys basketball team has defined how a program grows.

Headlined by six seniors with numerous other contributors, the Huskies are 10-4 (2-3 in region).

“We have a good mix of size and skilled guards this year which is really unique for Hillcrest,” said head coach Sam Richins, whose coached at Hillcrest for 17 years, eight as head coach.

The Huskies flourished in the preseason going 8-1 with Richins attributing some of the success to a roster core filled with experience.

“We came out guns a blazing…most of our improvement comes from starting the same kids for three years. We’ve progressed,” Richins said. That varsity continuity has proven vital with the Huskies making the state tournament the past three seasons.

Varsity captains (all seniors) noted how the group has grown up together with senior captain Troy Brinar saying that team chemistry “is a big part why we’re having great success this year.”

“You can tell when guys are comfortable together,” said senior captain Stockton Ashby. “You know where people are going to be (on the court), you trust each other, friends with each other. That helps a lot. Everybody has the sense, not that were cashing in our chips this year, but that we’ve built it up and we’re making as big of a push as we possibly can.”

Having that trust comes with talent and depth, which has allowed the Huskies to exert their balance and flexibility over opponents. With four players averaging double figures in scoring, it creates a conundrum for the opposition.

“One (player) will score 20 one night and another will score 20 the next (game)…It makes it hard for people to scout us,” said senior captain Karris Davis.

Ashby added that versatility brings variety to their lineups. “We can go with Big John (Villanueva), Troy and me. That’s a big lineup (all are at or over 6-foot-4-inches). At the same time we can go super small with Karris, Bassel (Tekarli), Brox (Ashby), Josh (Katzenbach) and Tyson (Flores). You can flip it and match different teams.”

Richins said putting both Brinar and senior Villanueva in a lineup gives them an advantage.

“They’re a difficult matchup… It’s very hard to guard those two at the same time. Very versatile and skilled offensive players. Our size, as crazy as it is at Hillcrest to say that, our size has to be our strength,” Richins said.

That uniqueness is apt considering the special nature of this year’s team compared to previous seasons.

Whether it’s close contests:

“We’d be in a lot of close games but we’d always end up coming up a little bit short…coming into this season with close games, we’re finding out ways to win,” Ashby said. “We’ve been there before, we’ve all played in a lot of games, we know what’s expected to win.”

Or the way they start games:

“Not getting punched first, but punching the other team first. Getting a lead first,” Brinar said. “So many games we always start off from behind but this year—once you start getting ahead of the other team, kind of asserting our dominance—it kind of gives us mojo to win the game.”

It all subscribes to a different vibe for the Huskies.

After finishing 11-11 and qualifying for state as the fourth seed in their region last year, that won’t be good enough for this year’s seniors.

“I feel like for the first time in long time. We have a confidence about ourselves about the school and coaches that when we’re at our best we can play with anyone,” Ashby said.

In a region that includes 2016 state champion Olympus and 2015 state finalist Kearns, the Huskies know it won’t be easy to reach their goals. Those include wearing their home jerseys at the tournament (means they finished top two in their region), a region championship and advancing past the first round. 

Richins said they want to “do some damage in the state tournament.”

“We have high hopes this season, we feel this could be the culmination of a lot of work for a lot of years,” he said. 

Davis said they have the capabilities to reach their objectives.

“I say go big or go home… We just have to come out prepared every night for the specific teams that we’re playing and we’ll take it, just gotta keep working,” Davis said.

Defense will be key to accomplishing those goals. “Defense could be our greatest strength but also our greateset weakness. The thing that could push us over the top or the thing that holds us back,” Ashby said.

The Huskies success on the court has inspired school spirit off it with students turning out in droves to watch both home and away.

A loud contingent was present when the team fell to Olympus 50-56 on the road. A much larger section came out for the team’s region opener when they defeated Cyprus in overtime.

“It was crazy, everyone was going nuts at the end. In that moment having everyone super excited about something the school could take pride in, that was really cool,” Ashby said.


While normally unusual to have six seniors on a basketball team, Richins said it’s been fun having this core together for three to four years with Brinar and Ashby being four-year starters. 

“That’s been fun to see them grow and turn from kids to young men that’ll represent themselves well,” Richins said.

Richins said each senior’s contribution to the team has been invaluable.

Whether it’s the captains like Brinar’s spot up shooting (“As solid a 12-15 foot shooter in the state of Utah, I mean that.”), Ashby’s all-around game (“Stockton is the glue, does everything for us.”) and Davis bringing an element of toughness (“lets the other team know that we’re there.”).

Or Villanueva, who moved to Utah from the Dominican Republic as a sophomore. Richins said he went from “wearing jeans to the first open gym and hardly being able to dribble and now being offered scholarships.

Or Katzenbach or Jaden Rogers, who Richins said “are the ultimate team guys” and “are always prepared to make us a better team.”

Both Richins and the captains used the term “family” to describe the team’s closeness.

“I love these kids like they’re my kids,” Richins said. Davis echoed those sentiments.

“This is like my other family, we all treat each other like brothers and best friends. Coach is like our parent on the court,” Davis said.