A new day is dawning in Heber City, however, and the program cannot rest on its laurels. The move up to class 4A will bring bigger, stronger and faster opponents to The Nest, but not just for visits. They will now stand in the way of the Wasps winning more region titles.
This is a challenge that is ready to be met head on by first year head coach Jason Long who was hired last spring to usher Wasatch into a new era of basketball.
“I’m very excited,” the energetic coach said after a long Monday afternoon practice. “I love this team. I love our guys. I can’t wait to get the season going.”
Long brings an enthusiasm to Wasatch that he learned in his years coaching at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Even though the age of the boys has changed, the philosophy remains the same.
“I want everyone to compete,” he stated. “Everyday is a try-out. We want to practice hard and find out who wants to play. There isn’t any basketball 101 going on here at the varsity level. These guys all need to be ready. We’ll need them all.”
The first year Wasp coach was talking about the style of play he wants the team to embrace--an up-tempo, defense-first approach that must be successful for the team to win games.
“It’s new. It’s fresh. It is way different,” said senior co-captain, Jeff Murdock. “It’s a system where all five guys on the floor need to be on for it to work. It’s been a learning process, but everybody’s working really hard. It may take some time, but we’ll get it and we’ll be good at it.”
Murdock is one of several players returning from a team that pulled off an amazing late season run last winter. “We’ve got some experience there,” he added. “We’re a bigger team this year and that’ll be huge for us. Our 6-6 guys are now handling the ball and creating shots. It’ll all come down to that—defense and execution in the transition game.”
Basketball practices for the young men have been high-energy and competition-filled. It is part of the Long’s scheme to make the player’s accountable for their play—good and bad. When game-time rolls around he wants to see the guys pushing each other to be better. That will translate to improvement as a team and eventually, plenty of wins.
“We want to peak in March,” said Long. “I don’t care if we win this first game or not. I’ve been telling them all along… this isn’t about the first game. We don’t want to peak at Thanksgiving.”
A few of the players on this year’s varsity roster are familiar with Long as a coach having played for or against him in the Utah Pump and Run league. One of those players is junior Nate Dow. Dow is coming off a solid campaign as a starter from last year’s team and will be counted on to be one of the leaders this season.
“Coach told me I would have to step it up this year,” Dow said smiling, “so, that’s what I’m trying to do.” The 6-6, 200 lb forward has been working hard all summer to make his game suitable for the faster-paced 4A competition.
“It’s so much fun right now,” he said after an extra 30-minutes of shooting after his team had stopped practice for the night. “I love playing this type of basketball. It demands so much out of you, but when it works, it’s great. Knowing that you’ve got nine or ten guys on the same page on defense and creating opportunities at the other end is a really exciting challenge. I can’t wait to get started.”
The new-look Wasps take the floor for the first time this season as they host Jordan High School in The Nest next Tuesday, November 26.