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“Overlooked” Utah basketball recruits get a chance to prove themselves on a big stage

Several players from Beehive State, many of them non-bindings, showed their skills at the two-day event.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Max Toombs (32) from Corner Canyon takes on Carson Bailey (0) from Bingham as they win on Tuesday 12th 22nd, 2022.

Pleasant grove • Corner Canyon guard Max Toombs mostly gets offers from junior colleges to play basketball. But after two days at the 5 For The Fight Hoopfest Utah County event, the untied senior thinks he’s worth another look.

“I think I did [Division] I have talent,” Toombs said. “I just have to show it and improve some things.”

Toombs took place on Wednesday, the second day of the event hosted by Pleasant Grove High School. He scored 44 points in 8-of-14 shooting from the 3-point line in a resounding victory over Maryland’s Bishop Walsh, who competes in the elite National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. He also made eight of his 10 free throw attempts. He scored 24 points in the team’s first game, which was against Bingham.

Toombs embodies what the Hoopfest event offers: an environment where local talent can watch and compete against top-ranked and nationally-ranked teams, with games broadcast on ESPN networks. This week marked the first time the event was held in Utah.

“I think it’s important because we sure have some ballers in Utah that I think get overlooked,” Chargers junior Brody Kozlowski said of the importance of the Utah event. “So coming to Utah and just showing all the schools in Utah and showing how they can play basketball right, I think it’s a big deal to come to Utah.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brody Kozlowski (15) of Corner Canyon competes in the 5 For Fight National Hoopfest Utah County Tournament at Pleasant Grove High School on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Corner Canyon was one of six Utah teams that competed in the event. The others were Bingham, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Real Salt Lake Academy, and Wasatch Academy.

Also attending the event were national powers Bishop Walsh School (Maryland), AZ Compass Prep, Montverde Academy (Florida), and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas).

Recruiters from schools across the country watched games in the stands.

It’s not every day that Utah schools get the opportunity to see and compete against some of the best high school basketball players in the country.

“The main thing is presence,” said Kozlowski, who currently has 11 college bids. “If you get in touch with these colleges and they see you, and if you catch their attention and you’re a good match for them, they’re going to start recruiting you.”

Schools recruiting Kozlowski include Utah Valley (UVU coach Mark Madsen was in the stands both days), Weber State, Utah State, Nevada, Loyola Chicago, Washington State and Boise State. In a game against Bingham, he scored 14 points and added six rebounds and a block while shooting 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. He had 11 points and 19 rebounds against Bishop Walsh.

Wasatch Academy, which also participates in NIBC, features three transfers recruited by some Utah schools. They are Jeremiah Johnson, Malick Diallo and Osiris Grady.

Diallo, a junior, said BYU is among the schools he was offered. This list also includes UCLA, Virginia, Arizona and LSU. He added that he paid an unofficial visit to BYU. He wants a school where he gets minutes as a freshman and “lets the big ones play,” he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Malick Diallo (32) of Wasatch Academy competes in the 5 For Fight National Hoopfest Utah County Tournament at Pleasant Grove High School on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Johnson, also a junior, said he’s working to get offers from BYU, Utah and southern Utah. But he already has offers from schools near his home state of Oklahoma.

Grady is a senior from Las Vegas. Before he arrived at Wasatch Academy, he had 14 or 15 Division I offers, he said. But once AAU took off, contact from coaches has slowed. He said the top schools currently speaking to him are Weber State, University of Nevada-Reno and IUPUI.

“I’m not overly concerned about that right now,” Grady said. “I’m just concentrating on basketball and doing what I have to do for this season. We’re on live TV, so they’ll definitely see me. So I’m just locked in and when I get a call, I’m ready.”

RSL Academy has 6-foot-10 senior center Lyman Simmons, who scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds in the team’s only game of the event. Simmons, a transfer, is not highly recruited despite having an offer from SUU. And trainer Dave Evans believes his big man will be a steal.

“People need to understand that he’s getting better every day,” Evans said of Simmons. “Some schools will be really lucky with him. He’s a special kid. … There are many schools that are missing it right now. But hopefully by the end of the year they’ll see how good he’s gotten.”

Wasatch Academy coach Paul Peterson said events like Hoopfest provide local talent with direction for their games.

“I think for me it’s always about the future,” said Peterson. “Show the young kids here what they can do.”

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