Park City boys basketball proves resilient throughout a sometimes-challenging season
All season long, the Park City boys basketball team had to fight for every possession. They had to fight for every rebound, every bucket because in the end, they self-admittedly lacked the height, depth or skill to win regularly at the Class 5A level.
But how does a team overcome its limitations knowing that it’s playing in the toughest region in the state?
“We are resilient. … It’s become who we are because we’ve never given up throughout the entire season,” said Thomas Purcell, Park City coach. “There were times, many times actually, where the boys could’ve thrown in the towel or quit on one another. But they didn’t. I asked them to keep fighting and to stay the course and in the end, they did just that and that’s why we found our success late in the season.”
That success Purcell speaks of, at least for a while midway in the season, looked as if it would never come. The Miners, despite finishing nonregion play 4-2 with victories over North Summit and South Summit, struggled to begin Region 8 play.
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Park City began region play 0-9, suffering 20-plus point losses in four of the games. But in most of the games, the Miners were in still in contention for a victory through the first half before being blown away in the second.
That led to a “come to Jesus” moment, according to Purcell, in which he told them a personal story following one Friday night game.
“I told the boys that this is just a game and I’m trying to teach them about basketball and life because stuff happens, but it’s about what you do about it,” Purcell said. “When things go wrong, are you going to quit or are you going to fight to become better fathers and husbands? I told them that if they can bounce back this season, they can look back on it as proof that they can push through and keep the positive attitude until the ball bounces your way again.”
Following that speech, Park City took down Salem Hills 55-44 on Feb. 4 at home, leading from start to finish and holding off a late rally by the Skyhawks. That victory was followed by five straight losses in region play, all games in which Purcell and senior leader Mark McCurdy felt they not only could have, but should have won.
“Throughout the whole year, there were definitely some times when it was really frustrating but at the same times we could see our improvement,” McCurdy said. “Coach kept us motivated. …Then in the second half of the season, we could really see how close the games were and how we should’ve won a lot more of them. We could see we were better and I think that’s what helped keep us all together in the end.”
So the Miners entered the 5A postseason as the No. 26 seed, and traveled to face No. 7 Lehi in the opening round as massive underdogs.
That underdog status didn’t matter because according to Purcell, he knew was taking a resilient and fighting squad to the state playoffs, a team that had endured so much but stayed together through it all.
“We’ve been through a lot this year, way more than any other team I’ve coached or been associated with,” Purcell said. “The boys had a new coach put on them a week before the season started, had to learn a new offense that’s complicated so obviously there were growing pains. Then we dealt with injuries, illness and of course the losing. But they proved something to me and to themselves that they don’t quit, so I knew we were ready for whatever came our way in the playoffs.”
McCurdy’s layup with 15 seconds left put Park City up for good against Lehi, allowing the Miners to pull the biggest upset of all the first round games and win their first playoff game in over a decade.
So when Park City pulled up to Bountiful High School on Feb. 21 for its second-round playoff game, the Miners were chock-full of confidence despite facing the No. 10 seed.
Despite trailing by double digits at the end of the first quarter, Park City was able to cut the deficit to two points in the fourth quarter before its rally came up short in the end — falling 80-64 in its season-ending loss.
“Any game you start out poor in the beginning, especially when facing a team at home that starts out scorching hot, it really makes things difficult the rest of the game,” Purcell said. “We made just enough shots in the first quarter to stay in it, and then we won the second and third quarters so there was a lot of excitement heading into the fourth. But in the end, it was too tough to overcome that slow start. … Especially because we burn though a lot of dry powder just trying to get back into the game, it’s just hard to win those types of games.”
With the season over, Purcell is already looking ahead to the future, believing that Park City’s is bright based on the legacy left by this senior class and the group of returners coming back next season.
Sophomores Mitch Lind and Carson Tabaracci, along with junior Adam Spink, all return as starters. Tabaracci scored 15 points against Bountiful (5-of-5 from three-point territory), Lind averaged 12 points per game in the two playoff games while Spink led the Miners with 38 made three-pointers on the season. Combine them with juniors Jake Podmilsak, Wyatt Adams and Josh Baniewicz and Purcell feels good about next year.
“I’m very familiar with the kids returning, having coached them as JV coach and during the AAU season in the summer as well,” Purcell said. “We will have size, shooters, ball-handlers, a little bit of everything for next year. With our offensive system already in place, we will have a lot of scoring and ammunition from the younger guys.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.