Last season, the Tooele boys basketball team enjoyed a successful season, posting a 14-11 overall record and finishing third in Region 11 before losing in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs.
The Buffaloes are looking for more this time around.
With coach Jed Thomas entering his second season in charge, and an experienced roster that includes one of the state’s premier big men in junior Justin Rogers, the Buffs figure to be a contender for the top spot in Region 10 and a high seed come state-tournament time.
“The potential’s through the roof,” Thomas said. “That’s the trick with any program, is making kids reach their potential. A lot of them really want it, and we’ve got a lot of seniors who have high expectations for this team. We have a couple of our top performers coming back, and we lost some top players from last year, but we put in a lot of hard work this offseason and we’re excited to see how it pays off.”
Rogers averaged 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game a year ago, including four double-doubles. He suffered a health scare this past summer and is still recovering, but if Tooele’s season-opening 50-47 win over defending Class 3A champion Morgan is a sign of things to come, Rogers should be just fine. He erupted for 30 points and 18 rebounds — both career-highs — as the Buffs edged the Trojans on the road on Nov. 26.
“You don’t replace a kid like Justin, on or off the court,” Thomas said. “He’s an amazing young man, and it was a scary time. He’s still working through it. He’s not where he was before the injury, but he’s working his butt off to try and get there.”
The Buffs’ talent doesn’t end with Rogers, however. He is surrounded by a talented group of seniors that includes guards Canyon Christensen, Braden Hogan and Brandon Vorwaller, along with small forward Gavin Ware.
“I think we can accomplish a state championship, honestly,” said Ware, who brings energy to the Buffs’ lineup. “I think the people who will stop us is ourselves. How far we let ourselves go is how far we’ll go. If we start getting selfish basketball, there’s no hope and we’ll struggle. If we can play how we’ve been playing since we were six years old, I think there’s nothing stopping us from making a pretty deep run in the playoffs.”
Vorwaller will also play a key role for the Buffs this year with increased playing time. Last year, in 23 games, he averaged 1.4 points, with his best game coming in a seven-point effort against Pine View.
“I’m so excited,” Vorwaller said. “We’ve been working so hard. The team, day in and day out, has been practicing and staying after late, at least an hour or two, just getting shots up to prepare ourselves. I feel like we have so many seniors who have been playing together for so long that we’ve developed a chemistry.”
Hogan was a valuable role player for Tooele last season, averaging 2.4 points in 21 games. His highest-scoring games came against Bear River, Ben Lomond and Bonneville, when he scored seven points, and he also had a season-high five rebounds against Ben Lomond.
“We’re finally to the point where we’re all seniors and we get to play together,” Hogan said. “I’m stoked. I think our team has a lot of potential, and I think that we’ve got to show them what we can bring. I definitely think we could bring home a state championship if we work hard enough.”
Christensen opened his senior season with a 10-point, eight-rebound, four-assist performance against Morgan despite battling illness. Tyson Hill, Caiden Garff, Trevor Zaleski and Julian Mahoe could also be key contributors for Tooele, which was also missing players going into the Morgan game with eligibility concerns.
“They fit really well together,” Thomas said. “They play well off each other. Their strengths cover up each others’ weaknesses. They mesh really well together. I’m excited to see what they do.”
The Buffaloes have a brutal preseason schedule, facing nationally ranked Wasatch Academy on Tuesday night. Their first home game is Friday against Class 5A Springville, with road games against Mountain Crest and Grantsville and a trip to St. George to face Dixie and Desert Hills also on the schedule. Tooele opens Region 10 play Dec. 17 at county rival Stansbury.