The Tooele boys basketball team won its first two games of the season in relatively convincing fashion, but has lost five in a row since then against a challenging slate of opponents.
The latest loss in that stretch, a 63-59 loss to county rival Grantsville on Saturday in which the Buffaloes (2-5) led for virtually the entire game until the final six minutes, was a difficult one for Tooele coach Josh Johnsen and his team to swallow. However, they weren’t about to let it get them down, especially with the Region 11 opener against Ogden looming on Wednesday.
“I know you want to win games, but we’re improving,” Johnsen said. “I stand by my statement from the preseason that this is the most talented team I’ve ever had. People want to look at our record, and I hope they do. I hope they underestimate us and they’ll find out what Tooele basketball is all about when we show up in their gym.”
Tooele is employing a more up-tempo style this season than it has in years past, using a four-guard lineup most of the time around freshman center Justin Rogers. That change has led to an adjustment period for the Buffs, who were more accustomed to playing a more low-scoring, ball-control-oriented game prior to this season.
“I think we’re jelling really well,” Johnsen said. “We’re still learning how to play this way because we’ve played so slow in the past. We’re still trying and we’re getting better at playing the way we need to play to win.”
One thing the Buffaloes have going for them is scoring depth. Through the first seven games of the season, senior Kyler Hymas is averaging 15.6 points per game, and fellow co-captains Mitchell Bunn and Dawson Banks are averaging 10.0 points and 8.9 points, respectively. Rogers scores 7.9 points per game, Nathan Swan scores 5.9 points and Jeno Bins scores 5.0.
“We’ve got three or four guys who you don’t know who’s going to lead us in scoring every night,” Johnsen said. “That’s definitely an advantage.”
The Buffs are also starting to show the benefits that come with having the same head coach over a span of several seasons. Johnsen is in his third season at the helm for Tooele, meaning he’s had the current seniors since they were sophomores and he’s the only varsity coach the juniors have known.
“There’s something to be said when you’ve got a group of kids that come on up together,” Grantsville coach Bryan Detweiler said. “Josh has been there for a while and his kids have been growing on up with him. They should know what he wants and they should know what’s expected and go out and perform. They can beat teams like that. They can play and they just need to keep it going and keep grinding on it.”
While their record might not be pretty, the Buffs enter their first Region 11 game of the season hopeful that they can compete for a region title and a high seed for the Class 4A state tournament.
“They’re good kids, and they’re not going to hang their head record-wise,” Johnsen said. “I think we’ll be fine.”