When people think of Wendover, a lot of things come to mind — gambling, shows and cheap buffets chief among them.
All of those happen to be on the Nevada side of the state line, leaving Wendover, Utah, largely forgotten.
The thing that just about nobody associates with Wendover is high school basketball, let alone good high school basketball. It appears that the hometown Wildcats are well on their way to doing something to change that, however.
For years, Wendover High has been an afterthought on the small-town Utah high school sports scene. It certainly didn’t help the Wildcats’ athletic fortunes when a second high school was built on the other side of the state line, bringing an end to the days when all students in the area attended elementary school in Nevada and high school in Utah. It greatly reduced Wendover High’s student body, and, along with it, its talent base for fielding competitive sports teams.
However, that seems to have changed this year. Wendover High’s tiny gym is suddenly home to a dominant boys basketball team that is gradually earning accolades from the Salt Lake City media. That takes a lot, considering many people along the Wasatch Front don’t seem to realize that there are people in Utah who live west of the Oquirrh Mountains (or south of Santaquin, or north of Ogden, or east of Park City, but I digress).
Yes, Wendover is a Class 1A school. You’re not likely to find the next future college superstar in a school that size. The kids on the Wildcats’ roster are likely playing the highest level of competitive basketball they’ll ever play in their lives. One of Wendover’s two losses is to its cross-border rival from West Wendover High, a team that Grantsville beat by nine. So let’s not get carried away and call the Wildcats a bunch of world-beaters. But what they are is a very good — possibly even great — Class 1A squad.
In spite of their small school size, the Wildcats manage to play an incredibly entertaining and exciting brand of basketball. Their suffocating press defense makes life miserable for opposing offenses. They force a ton of turnovers that lead to fast-break points, and they drive fearlessly to the basket for acrobatic layups from their half-court offense. And when those aren’t open, Wendover’s not afraid to launch it from 3-point range.
Coach Kyle Murphy doesn’t hesitate to go deep into his bench, either. The Wildcats are able to go at least 10-deep, which is truly impressive in a classification where some teams barely have 10 total players on their roster. When the opposition is physically and mentally drained from having to face the Wildcats’ press, Murphy can bring a fresh set of players off the bench and continue the relentless energy that has become a Wendover trademark.
The result is a team that currently sports a 15-2 record and is well on its way to a Region 21 title — its first region crown in four years. And while Stansbury, Tooele and Grantsville are all postseason-bound — and, despite being Wendover’s latest victim, so is Dugway under legendary coach George Bruce — perhaps Tooele County’s best shot at bringing home a state title this season resides in the shadows of the shiny casino marquees on the Utah-Nevada state line.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He shares something in common with most of the Wildcats’ opponents this season: when all was said and done, he left Wendover on the losing end. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.