ST. GEORGE — Cedar boys basketball was 1-5 last year at the halfway mark of the Region 9 season. So far this season they have almost doubled their win total from last year, and the Reds are 5-2 in region play with sole possession of second place. They are also a top 5 team in the Class 4A RPI ranking right now. A new head coach has helped with the new look Reds, but it takes more than that to turn a team around this quickly.
On Tuesday night Cedar traveled to Snow Canyon and won 66-57 over the Warriors. The Reds had a 13-point lead at halftime and controlled the entire game to get the road victory. Three players finished in double figures, and Dallin Grant led the charge with 18 points on the night. This marked their fifth region win of the season just seven games in.
It’s also key to note that five of the Reds’ seven region games were played on the road. They’ll host the top team in Region 9, Dixie, and Desert Hills next week. The second half of the season is looking more favorable for the Reds with five home games and a three-game home stand to end the season.
The Reds have put themselves in a good position in the region standings, a massive turnaround for a team that won six region games over the past three seasons.
Not much has changed for the Reds with regard to their roster. They only graduated three seniors from their roster last year, but the big change came with their new head coach, Mark Esplin. Esplin has had a long history with the Reds, spending 21 years at the school. He’s seen the good and the bad, but with his new role, the Reds look like a brand new team.
He said that the biggest change for their team has been the players.
“We just talk to them,” Esplin said. “Dallin has bought in, Treyton has bought in saying, ‘We scored a lot of points a year ago, but we didn’t win.’ They’ve bought into to playing defense, they’ve bought into playing the team concept, it’s the kids.”
They bought into the defense, but at the beginning of the year Cedar played at a much slower pace. Against Dixie they scored 32 points and lost by only 13. After the loss, he described the slow pace as their style.
“They (Dixie) want to score in the 70s; I want to hold teams down in the 40s,” Esplin said after the Dixie game.
After their blowout win against Crimson Cliffs last week, he admitted to letting his team play a more up and down style.
“I’ve taken the reigns off of them, kind of let them run right now,” Esplin said. “Early we had to change some things. I felt like we needed to show that we are going to be a defensive team. Now we’ve said, ‘If we get an opportunity we’re going to run, we’re going to take good shots,’ and we’ve been able to do that. As long as they continue to take the shots that are good instead of my turn shots, we’re going to let them run, and they should be able to get up and down the floor with anybody.”
They have done just that, scoring 70 points in three of their last five games, coming two points shy of the mark against Snow Canyon.
Add in the change of the team’s mentality on defense and a well-rounded roster and you have one of the top teams in the region. Gaige Savage and Dallin Grant combine to create one of the best backcourt combinations in the region. Zab Santana, Treyton Tebbs, Luke Armstrong and Landon Barney complement the pair well and create depth for the Reds.
The head of the monster is Dallin Grant. He’s back healthy this season, and the Junior is racking up Division I offers. He has been offered by BYU, Utah, Stanford, SUU and Dixie State already. His athleticism and versatility allow him to capitalize in the post and on the perimeter while his length and athleticism help on the defensive side of things.
“I think my strength is really my versatility,” Grant said. “I really like bringing bigger dudes out on the perimeter and bringing smaller dudes inside. Really just doing it from everywhere and looking for my teammates as well when they bring the double team.”
When asked about the change over the past year has been for the Reds, Grant said it was the defense.
“Earlier in the year we were trying to find ourselves offensively, but we were still getting wins because of our defense,” Grant said. “Also this year we’re healthy, which is a big help, and not only that but everyone is on the same page, everybody has the same goal. Last year I feel like different guys had different goals for everything.”
Grant is arguably one of the best scorers int he region, and Esplin agreed.
“He can be, but we’ve learned that you can’t just shoot any shot you want,” Esplin said. “I can score if you let me shoot 60 a game. If you let me shoot that many times I’m bound to get two or three of them in.”
As for the rest of the season, the Reds are playing great. They are on a four-game winning streak and start off the second half of region play at Hurricane on Thursday.
“I’m very pleased, but you guys have got to remember that I have been around for 21 years with Cedar high basketball,” Esplin said when talking about his team’s success this year. “We’ve had two bad stretches in that 21 years with coaches that have been there. You’ve got to build from within the program, and you’ve got to get a program of some kind. I think that’s the biggest difference, we’re trying to build a program instead of playing for the one year.”
Esplin has made a big change within the culture of the Reds, and it seems to be working.
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