Denver East set out to prove it was the best team in the FreeTaxUSA.com Great Western Shootout and after taking on two of the top teams in Utah along with Bishop O’Connell, national power from Virginia, that’s exactly what happened.
Led by Dominique Collier, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Denver East beat American Fork, Orem, before ending the tournament with a win over Bishop O’Connell and finishing as the only undefeated team.
American Fork, Bingham and Foothill all finished at 2-1. Overland was 1-2 and both Bishop O’Connell and Orem were 0-3.
The tournament tipped off on Thursday, Dec. 5 and continued with four games each day through Saturday. The final two games on Friday and Saturday were televised by KMYU with Dave Fox and Andy Toolson calling the play-by-play. All the games were streamed live by SFANTV.com, who also conducted which post-game interviews with players and coaches.
“This year’s FreeTaxUSA.com Great Western Shootout met or exceeded all of my expectations,” said Golden Holt, tournament organizer. “The quality of teams, competition, sponsors and volunteers was truly outstanding. I am grateful to all that made this a first class event for the community.”
Overall, the tournament included 12 varsity games, 13 junior varsity games, a 3-point contest, a fireworks show, a dance and a scholarship give-away that warranted a visit from Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who participated in a pre-game presentation to honor the scholarship recipients.
During each game one lucky fan was chosen to participate in a shooting contest. The lucky contestant was picked up by either the National Guard or RMT cart and escorted to the court where they had the chance to win $500.
It didn’t take long to realize that the third annual FreeTaxUSA.com Great Western Shootout would be different than last year when Utah teams dominated.
In the opening game, Bingham, considered to be the weakest of the Utah teams, upset Bishop ‘Connell, a team that finished last year ranked No. 15th nationally with a 30-7 record.
The upsets continued in game 2, when Overland stunned Lone Peak, last year’s national champion, who opened the year ranked No. 15 by USA Today.
If that wasn’t surprising enough, Foothill, a team that went 0-3 in last year’s tournament, turned in a convincing win over Orem.
The night concluded with a furious fourth-quarter rally from Denver East that helped the Angels erase a double-digit lead and beat American Fork 68-67.
Friday’s action was the most dramatic of the tournament. The day started with the most bizarre game of the tournament. American Fork and Overland were tied after Brendan Bailey knocked down a clutch 3-pointer with eight seconds left in the game. When Overland inbounded the ball, an American Fork player thought his team still trailed and immediately committed a foul, sending the Trailblazers to the line for a one-and-one. They missed and American Fork got the rebound. Bailey rushed a shot that was off the mark but Ryan Andrus was there for the follow as the buzzer giving the Cavemen the dramatic win. Students flooded the court and mobbed the team as they celebrated an incredible win.
It was as scene replayed in the final game of the night when Lone Peak beat Bishop O’Connell in memorable fashion.
The game was tied and appeared headed to overtime but that was before Lone Peak’s TJ Haws got the ball. He took it down court and knocked down a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to give the Knights a crucial win.
Lone Peak fans charged the court, raised Haws on their shoulders and paraded him around which all made for a ratings hit for KMYU. It seemed only fitting that a fireworks show followed the game.
Frigid temperatures didn’t stop the majority of the fans from going outside to enjoy a first-class fireworks show that went on for more than 10 minutes.
Another memorable moment on Saturday night was the scholarship presentation by Governor Herbert.
All four of the Utah teams who participated in the tournament were able to select a student from their school to receive a $2,500 scholarship.
One of those scholarships went to Orem’s Brandon Ebright, a senior, who rides his bicycle to work in American Fork three times a week with the hopes that he eases the financial burden felt by his mother. He is one of four children being raised by a single mother.
It’s just another example of how the FreeTaxUSA.com is not just focused on winning on the court.
The tournament could not have been possible had it not been for the tireless work of Holt and Tournament Director Paul Overly along with the support of several major sponsors that include: FreeTaxUSA.com, Vivint, Zion’s Bank, Utah National Guard, Rocky Mountain Turf, Edge Homes, FastSigns, Great Dane, IHC, Bassett Furniture, Social5, Tuttle Family Dental, Peterson Financial and Retirement Services, Next Financial Group, and Pepsi.
There were over 50 volunteers and a host family program that made the logistics of putting on such an ambitious event possible.
“We couldn’t have hosted this community event without the help of so many people that we are very grateful for,” Holt said. “We feel like we put on a first-class even that people enjoyed and we look forward to even bigger and better things next year.”