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The City Journals

Entering 2020, Mount Vernon boys basketball enjoyed top 1A record in the state, 9-1

Feb 17, 2020 02:00PM ● By Carl Fauver

After winning just six of 19 games a season ago, Murray’s Mount Vernon Academy boys basketball team raced out to a 9-1 start this season, before their holiday break. (Mount Vernon Academy)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected] 

A young, but much more experienced, Mount Vernon Academy boys basketball team raced out to one of the school’s best season starts ever. With just one senior on its 14-player roster, the Patriots won nine of their first 10 games, before their holiday break.

The Utah high school boys basketball rating percentage index (RPI) also took notice, ranking the tiny private school in Murray third in the state – at the class 1A level – behind only Valley (Orderville) and Wendover high schools. Each of those teams had two losses at the time; but based on their strength of schedule they were rated ahead of the 9-1 Patriots.

Moreover, those RPI ratings now mean everything – and are much more important than region records and standings – when it comes to seeding teams into the state tournament.

Unfortunately, the Patriots saw their win streak snapped, and their RPI take a hit, in their first game of the new decade. Hosting region 22 rival Tabiona, Mount Vernon fell to the defending state champion Tigers, 46-41. A split of their next two games had the Patriots with a 10-3 record – and a No. 7 RPI ranking – at press deadline.

“We have only one senior on this year’s team, along with four juniors, six sophomores and three freshmen,” said Mount Vernon head coach (and school principal) Mike Lambson. “But we also have four of last year’s starters back and they have all improved from a season ago.”

The quartet of returning starters are: junior point guard Orlando Martinez, junior shooting guard Song Im, junior small forward Daniel Lu and sophomore center Ketu Achebo. Joining them in the starting lineup, freshman forward Jaxon Guidash just barely began attending the private school last fall. 

With that stellar 10-3 record, the Patriots had nearly doubled last season’s win total, with several games remaining on their schedule.

“We finished 6-13 last season, and missed qualifying for the state tournament for the fourth or fifth year in a row,” Lambson added.  “We finished fifth in region 22 and only the top four went to state. I like the new RPI ranking formula, where every team goes to the playoffs. It’s a good experience for kids in small schools like ours.”

Lambson said his team’s primary goals this year are to finish with a winning record and to host a playoff game.

“I feel pretty great that we started the season 9-1,” said starting point guard Martinez. “We had a difficult time winning last year. But we are much more experienced this season and we have had no severe injuries. It’s going well.”

Orlando is a three-sport athlete who plays football at Brighton High School in the fall, along with basketball and track for Mount Vernon. Last year he was a two-way starter on the gridiron for the Bengals, playing wide receiver and cornerback. 

“There’s a school in Florida looking at me for a possible basketball scholarship,” he added. “I want to be a physical therapist one day, and they have a pretty decent program for that. I would rather go to college out of state than to stay here in Utah, just for a new experience.”

A year ago, Martinez had one of the highest per game averages for steals of any Utah high school basketball player, across all of the classifications. Again this season, he said he is averaging eight to nine steals per game.

While Martinez was born and raised here in Utah, another of Lambson’s three-sport athletes moved some 7,500 miles from Nigeria to attend the private Murray school.

Sophomore starting center Ketu Achebo lives in Magna and plays football for nearby Cyprus High School. Mount Vernon does not field a football team, allowing Martinez and Achebo to play the sport for two different Salt Lake Valley schools.

A few years ago, Achebo’s older brother Sommy Achebo also attended Mount Vernon and played his high school football for Granger. He was good enough for the Lancers to earn an athletic scholarship to attend Southern Utah University, where he continues to study and play.

Like teammate Martinez, Achebo’s spring sport is track and field.  

The Achebo brothers chose to make the long move from Nigeria to Utah, while their three siblings did not.

“I saw (moving here) as an opportunity that I should not let go to waste,” Ketu said. “I feel it is a way to help my family back home, because it relieves my mom’s stress. She does not have to worry about me.”

Like Lambson, Ketu believes his individual play – and that of the entire team – has improved this season.

“I feel like this year I am doing better,” he added. “I have scored more points; but I need to work more on my rebounding. That’s what I am concentrating on now.”

It’s been 17 years since Mount Vernon won the Class 1A boys basketball state title. No one is predicting this year’s squad will match that 2003 performance. But Lambson and his 14 team members are confident they can make a little more noise in the post season than they have for the past several years.