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South Valley Journal

After unique offseason, Riverton basketball focused on improving everyday

Feb 01, 2021 02:52PM ● By Travis Barton

Cody Nixon and Isaac Smith helped lead a superb defensive effort against West Jordan in December holding the Jaguars to 41 points. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Between its second-round playoff loss to Fremont on Feb. 21, 2020 to its season opening game on Dec. 4, 2020 against Tooele, the Riverton boys basketball team didn’t play a single game together. 

“Which is pretty rare, I don’t think that’s ever happened here before,” said head coach Skyler Wilson, now in his seventh year leading the program. “We did less than we had ever done with our team.” 

Due to a pandemic and social distancing guidelines, Wilson felt it was best for the kids to stay away from each other, so they took an individual approach working on skill development.

On one hand, he saw huge improvement in the players individually. On the other, they weren’t prepared for the competition of a team sport. 

It resulted in a rough first game, losing to Tooele 57-40 where the Silverwolves scored just 13 first-half points. It’s a game Wilson would like to have back, he himself still learning about the team, the right lineups and positions for players. 

“The kids have definitely progressed and made a lot of growth since that first game,” Wilson said. 

That first game proved to be more of a blip as the team went 6-2 the rest of December only losing to Cyprus twice in the Riverton Holiday Tournament. A run of victories that Wilson attributed to “grit and defense” while they worked on the offense. 

And defense was a question mark for Wilson entering the season, but he’s been pleasantly surprised. 

“We're not a very big team, we don't have a ton of size, height,” he said. “Our guys make up for that with effort, heart, playing well together. The biggest surprise has been our defense.” 

Offensively, the team utilizes a more space and pace approach. As opposed to last year when they depended on Cameron Fischer in the post and Parker Applegate to hit threes. Both of them are now graduated, and this year Wilson said they’ve spread out more with multiple shooters on the court and getting out in transition. 

It’s a style the players like, Wilson said, and wished he played when he was in high school. 

“Being a taller kid, I was told to get under the basket and post up when I felt like I was one of the best shooters on the team,” he said. “Taking advantage of that kind of system would have been fun for me and I think the kids enjoy it.” 

Two of those kids were starters on the team last year in Cody Nixon and Josh Bollinger, both seniors now. Nixon might be the most natural scorer on the team. He leads the team in scoring at 16 per game, but “there’s a lot of things he does well and brings to the table,” Wilson said. Whether that’s three-pointers, getting to the basket, free throws, ball handling or defending with his long arms disrupting passing lanes and testing shooters. 

Wilson identified Bollinger as the team’s best defender, who takes care of the details, whether through his hustle or leading the team in rebounding at 6’1. 

“He’s tenacious, gets after the rebounds, pursues the ball well and just provides that energy, that spark our team is constantly in need of,” Wilson said. 

One surprising player so far is Mackay Hostetter. Making a substantial jump from last year, the junior is the second leading scorer on the team. Wilson wasn’t sure where Hostetter would fit this year, but has proved his worth. 

“One of the best I've ever coached moving without the ball,” Wilson said. “He’s got a great knack for cutting and screening and knowing how to play without the ball, which is such a valuable skill.” 

The team sits 7-6 at press time having just started region with two tough losses to Bingham and Copper Hills. But for Wilson, he’s not focused on outcomes as much as the process. “The biggest thing for our team and whole program is getting better every day, the small victories, the one percent improvements. This group’s done that.” 

As with any sport during these unprecedented times, COVID-19 is a factor the team must deal with. Players get tested every two weeks, with five testing positive so far. A vice principal had to interrupt practice to pull a kid out after he tested positive. 

Wilson is happy with the precautions in place, that it allows the kids to play. 

“As hard as this has been for everybody, the opportunity just to play we’re super thankful for.”