DRAPER — Things may be subdued in the Juan Diego Catholic High school boys basketball program this week after the state championship loss to Salem Hills, but head coach Drew Trost said there is much to celebrate: a perfect record (12-0) in play at region and a fourth consecutive region championship.
It’s also the third consecutive year Juan Diego has advanced to the state finals.
“Three years in a row is tough to sustain,” Trost said. “It does speak a lot to the hard work of the seniors. That kind of consistency is definitely hard to build. It was a great season overall.”
Coming into the basketball season, Trost wasn’t sure what kind of team he’d have, he said, because only two of his returning players had significant varsity experience. “There were a lot of question marks,” he said, but “I was really pleased with how things came together.”
This year, to take advantage of his players’ height and size, Trost had Juan Diego play a zone defense rather than the more traditional man-to-man defense.
“We were way bigger than most players,” he said. “It worked really well, and it confused a lot of people. It had a great effect and really anchored the defense.”
The team was led by senior Matt Kitzman, a three-year starter who moved to point guard.
Kitzman claimed the Region MVP recognition and was a member of the all-tournament team.
“He really exceeded all my expectations,” Trost said. “He had a great year and was a terrific leader all year.”
Jason Ricketts, who was first team all-region and also a member of the all-tournament team, had a great senior season as well, Trost said, adding that Ricketts worked hard in the off season to improve his perimeter game.
“Jason was a force inside,” he said. “He had some really great games in the tournament. In the Orem win he was really spectacular. It was great to see him step up as a senior.”
Junior shooting guard Lawson Roe had a “fantastic” year, averaging over 10 points a game, setting a school record of 79 3-pointers shooting over 45 percent, Trost said, while shooting guard Raimona Tinirauarii, a junior, averaged 11 points per game.
“He is so versatile,” Trost said. “He will be the leader of the team next year.”
One of the standout games of the season was when Juan Diego beat Riverton in a hard-fought preseason game at home, Trost said.
Another season highlight was at the Las Vegas Tarkanian Classic Vegas where, despite an injury Ricketts sustained, Juan Diego held its own, he said.
“We went two and two against some of the best schools in the nation,” Trost said.
The March 2 semifinal game against Orem was the “best win of the season” at 57-40, Trost said. During the game, Ricketts had 21 points and pulled down eight rebounds, while Kitzman made his mark in the fourth quarter, hitting 11 free-throws, finishing the game with 16 points. Juan Diego went four for eight from long range and added to that 19 of 24 free throws, making them 22-5 on the season.
Trost said he isn’t sure what went wrong in the final March 3 game against Salem Hills at Utah Valley University, which his team lost 64-55. Juan Diego battled for the lead the whole game and was ahead 38-35 at the end of the third quarter.
“Even though we had a lead going into the fourth quarter, the team just seemed kind of off the whole game,” while Salem Hills played a great game, he said, and praised James Nelson in particular who, he said, had some great shots.
Although the state victory was not to be theirs this season, Trost told his players they should keep the loss in perspective.
“I told them how proud I was of their development and hard work this season,” he said. “People didn’t think we’d be back there (at the state finals), but we made it.
“I told them, ‘If we had won, it would not be the best thing in your life,” he continued. “Losing this game is not going to be your worst. As bad as it does hurt to lose, you’re going to find lasting joy and happiness with other things like your relationship with God and your family, not necessarily through winning or losing this game.”
Trost anticipates a solid season next year. The JV team had a 2018 season record of 17-3, and Trost anticipates some strong players coming out of that team as well as Tinirauarii, Roe and Kalthom Kur, he said.