The fact that the Grantsville boys basketball team is good in coach Nate Austin’s first year isn’t necessarily a surprise, given their top-five finish in Class 3A a year ago.
It might be a little surprising just how good they really are, though.
The Cowboys haven’t won a state championship in boys basketball since 1998, back when they were still competing in Class 2A. They’ve had some good teams since then — including last year’s fifth-place finish and a third-place finish in 2018. But through the first month-plus of the 2020-21 season, Grantsville looks simply dominant.
They’ve only lost one game, and that was to Class 4A No. 7 Logan. Other than that, the Cowboys have only had two games that they won by fewer than nine points, and those were against county rival Tooele on the road and Class 3A No. 2 Manti in the first game of the season. Since Region 13 play began, they’ve only become more dominant, routing Providence Hall by 50 and Morgan by 29 while hitting 28 3-pointers between the two contests.
Manti and Grand might push the Cowboys come state tournament time, but the Templars and Red Devils aren’t without their flaws. Manti’s other two losses coming into Wednesday’s games were against Class 4A powers Crimson Cliffs and Snow Canyon, which had a combined record of 19-5, though the Templars’ region schedule is nothing to write home about. Grand just suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday against Class 1A Monticello, though the Buckaroos and Red Devils have a long-standing regional rivalry that can go either way most years. Grand’s non-region schedule was also particularly weak, so the Devils’ impressive record may be a bit of a mirage.
The biggest thing Grantsville may have going for it is its devastating depth. Three Cowboys — center Davin Ekins and guards Tuhker Mulford and Carter Killian — average at least a dozen points per game. Tate Allred averages 8.6 points and Brigham Mulford averages 6.0. Ekins also snags eight rebounds per contest, while Killian averages 5.3 assists and Grayson McKeever dishes out 3.8 assists per game.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys shoot an incredibly high percentage. They’ve shot 90-for-207 (43.5%) from 3-point range and 110-for-179 (61.5%) from inside the arc. That kind of brutal efficiency is borderline impossible for opponents to slow down, let alone stop. If you try to stop 6-foot-7 center Ekins down low, Killian, Allred, JJ Backus and the Mulfords can light it up from long distance.
I’ve been around high school basketball for a long time, dating back to when I became the manager of my high school team in 1999. I’ve seen teams put together strong seasons before. But this Grantsville team has something special going for it right now. I got the chance to watch the Cowboys’ game against Morgan the other night, and seeing the way they shredded the Trojans — typically one of Region 13’s better squads — with such ease was an eye-opener. Granted, Morgan might be a little bit down this year with underclassmen filling key roles for the Trojans. The Cowboys might also suffer from the same fate as Manti, where the rest of the region around them isn’t the strongest, so they might have to flip the switch come playoff time.
The thing is, Grantsville knows how to do that. Killian, Ekins, Allred, Tuhker Mulford and McKeever all played key minutes for the Cowboys in last year’s state tournaments, when they made an unexpected run to fifth place from the No. 8 seed.
Don’t be surprised to see them make another deep run next month — one that might even end with a trophy.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He is looking forward to the state tournament, just to see how the local teams do. Email him at email@example.com.