Coach’s Corner: Youth programs pay off in high school girls hoops | News, Sports, Jobs

Lehi Senior Jamisyn Heaton drives to the basket Tuesday, January 18, 2022 during the Region 8 game against Timpview in Lehi. (Jared Lloyd, Daily Herald)

It’s no surprise why certain high school girls’ basketball teams like Springville, American Fork, Timpanogos, Lone Peak, Lehi and Westlake – to name a few – have great programs and win all the time.

It’s a direct correlation to their youth programs.

During my college days as a player and coach, the mantra was, “It’s all about players. If you have the players, you win!”

The same is true in high school. To win you have to have players – and you win players by developing them.

The high schools that won and won championships were the teams that played and worked the youth programs. They didn’t just work during the winter basketball season. They also had camps, clinics, tournaments and leagues during the off-season.

One of the biggest proponents of this has been the rise of bantam basketball.

When I started coaching here in 2006, there weren’t many opportunities here in the Utah Valley. All the tournaments and leagues were in Salt Lake City, so we used to go there every weekend to play.

There were more teams in Salt Lake City and that’s where all the competition was. There were a handful of teams down here that were really good, mostly all run by parents who organized the team and set the schedule.

The formation of Bantam helped tie these teams to their respective high schools, getting the high school coaches involved, and building these programs. The teams that benefited the most from Bantam—and the teams that came before Bantam—were Springville, Timpanogos, and American Fork.

Since 2010, when Bantam started, Springville has won five state championships, while Timpanogos and American Fork have each won one title.

Bantam fundamentally changed girls’ basketball here in the Valley.

In the first year there were 30 teams divided into two divisions: fifth/sixth grade and seventh/eighth grade.

From then on participation has increased every year, until now there are 152 teams. 500% growth is amazing!

This year, Utah is ranked #2 in the nation for AAU girls’ basketball attendance.

Josh Kallunki, director of Bantam, told me that getting people involved has been hugely important to the growth of the program.

The coaches, school districts, college administrators, parents, and volunteer coaches have all been very supportive and have played a huge role in increasing participation.

From the start, Kallunki has seen the growth of more and more girls playing beyond high school and growth in the club scene. Bantam basketball has created a more competitive environment than junior jazz.

The most important thing Josh said was how great it was for the multi-sport athlete.

To be successful at playing multiple sports, you need to have the experience. Bantam allows the multi-athlete to engage in basketball, especially with children playing another club sport.

The investment of time and money required compared to club volleyball or soccer has given these athletes the opportunity to work on basketball alongside their main sport.

It was also great to help raise money for their high school programs. I loved hosting games at my school. It was a great way to watch all the kids play and earn some money for the program.

I was able to sit down and talk to Westlake head coach Mike O’Connor. I really love what he has done to expand his program.

He loves bantam because it offers a positive experience for the girls. More and more girls now want to play basketball and are interested in the game. The girls now come to the games and meet the players and the coaches.

This year he has nine teams. In the summer he runs his camps and clinics from pre-kindergarten to high school and he will send up to 250 children.

Bantam allows him to let teams play with different skills. He thinks the quality of the games you have has helped across the board, not just in varsity but also in the sophomore and jv games. Now you have more competitive games.

As more and more girls play basketball at a younger age and gain more experience, the game is seen to have a higher skill quality in high school gyms.

We still need to do more to expand the girls game.

I have to send a huge thank you to the parents who have agreed to coach these teams. Thank you for your role in raising the bar for girls’ basketball.

Let’s make sure we focus on a positive experience and lots of basics in practice.

If you haven’t seen the girls play this year, I highly recommend you go out and watch these girls play.

If you want to see some of the best girls in the Valley play, there are some good matchups next week.

Some of the best games seem to be:

  • February 1: Lehi in Orem, 7 p.m
  • February 2: Rockwell at American Heritage, 7 p.m
  • February 3: Jordan in Lehi at 7 p.m., Mountain View in Timpview at 7 p.m. and Payson in Cedar Valley at 7 p.m
  • February 4: Westlake in Skyridge, 5:15 p.m., Pleasant Grove in Lone Peak, 5:15 p.m. and Springville in Spanish Fork, 5:15 p.m

I will be at most of these games. Follow me @coachveeks on Instagram where I post updates on the games I attend in my story. #girlcoach


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