MOUNT PLEASANT, Sanpete County — Almost every Utah high school basketball team saw its state tournament end — either by brutal force or by triumph — prior to the postponement or cancelation of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every team, except one, that is.
Wasatch Academy, which competes as a Utah High School Activities Association independent, was waiting for a trip to New York City for GEICO High School Nationals in mid-March. As the NBA and NCAA Tournament quickly shutdown, tournament organizers quickly postponed the event and planned to move it to South Carolina, close enough to allow most teams to bus or travel a short distance to the event (the Tigers, of course, were an exception, but willing to make the adjustment to compete), with a scheduled date of April 2-4.
On Thursday, that postponement stretched interminable: the tournament was canceled. A consensus top-five team nationally, Wasatch Academy’s season was over.
Just like that, the season was over — and so, too, the high school careers of a five-man senior class that is believed to be the first in Utah to send all five to mid- to high-major Division I college programs.
“Everybody was bummed about it, but our seniors worked really hard and this year, we felt like we had a really good chance,” Wasatch Academy coach David Evans told KSL.com. “Our draw as the second seed was really good, and we were going to prepare for all the teams to try to get to the championship. The boys were playing really good.”
Wasatch Academy was led by Michigan State-bound center Mady Sissoko, Fresno State signee Leo Colimerio, Cincinnati signee Mike Saunders, Utah signee Caleb Lohner and Richie Saunders, who will play for BYU after a two-year church mission, the season was left with an unsatisfying finish.
The Tigers (27-2) would have earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament, a parting gift presented by GEICO Nationals organizers as they announced the cancellation. That would’ve given them a first-round date with Florida basketball factory IMG Academy.
“Regretfully, we have made the decision to officially cancel the 2020 Geico Nationals due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” tournament organizers said in a brief statement. “We’d like to celebrate the teams who qualified for the tournament by revealing the field.”
The Tigers’ second round could have been a rematch against sixth-seeded Oak Hill Academy, which held off Wasatch Academy 76-68 in the Iolani Prep Classic back on Dec. 21 in Hawaii. Eventually maybe — just maybe, because tournaments are unpredictable — top-seeded Montverde Academy from Florida would’ve waited in the championship game.
Evans is used to tough draws in the eight-team tournament that pits the top high school squads in the country against each other. But he liked his team’s draw.
“All the teams in the field are really, really good,” he said.”The top eight teams for GEICO were all good. But we felt like our road to the championship was as good a draw as we’ve ever had going to this tournament. We just felt like the boys were ready for it.
“IMG is really good, but I felt like the boys were ready.”
The Tigers will bring back plenty of great players, including five-star point guard Richard Isaacs Jr., who has already received offers from Texas A&M, Arizona, Boston College and Kansas, among others. He’ll lead a team that includes Brennan Rigsby, Fousseyni Traore and Kamryn Waites in a year.
They’ll be back next season, while the seniors all move on to collegiate careers. Those colleges are dealing with their own ramifications with incoming recruits due to the coronavirus, too.
For example, Lohner was originally supposed to enroll at Utah for the summer semester, but those classes have all been shifted online. Similarly, Saunders, who has signed with BYU, had received a mission call for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Madagascar, but his call will likely be postponed as the church deals with the early return of thousands of missionaries from across the globe.
Regardless of the ending, Evans is going to miss his senior class.
“This was a pretty special group,” Evans said. “We really had a great group of seniors, and our younger guys played hard. We’re going to really miss them.”