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OPINION: Pioneer boys will take away more than rings from their hoops journey

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That one-word slogan has inspired the Lehi boys basketball team throughout this entire season, and at no time was it more in evidence than during the state hoops tournament last week.

The Pioneers performed like a well-oiled machine in every contest. Unrelenting defense. Crisp passing. Full-effort floor play. Unselfish offense. And the kind of court smarts and communication that can come only from long practice, experience and expert guidance.

No matter the situation – and they faced an especially critical one at the end of the semifinal, as recorded in the accompanying story – they never lost their self-control or their confidence.

They trusted one another and lifted each other up, literally off the floor whenever anyone went down and figuratively in all the other ways.

During the season, they battled through injuries, illnesses, unexpected losses, tough shooting nights individually and as a team, and other adversities.

They had their disagreements and disappointments too of course, and each one had to make adjustments to their personal preferences as they went along, but nothing broke the bond of common purpose and friendship that held them together.

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Yes, Lehi did have a jaw-dropping star in senior guard Cooper Lewis, and he was the coach’s son on top of that, which on many teams could have created issues that would have been difficult to overcome. Here, to the credit of all involved, that fact never derailed the focus or the brotherhood.

Cooper himself and his father/coach would be the first ones to tell you that no player in a team sport wins a championship alone. That title was the goal from the start, formulated right after the Pioneers exited from last year’s quarterfinals.

Accordingly, for the past 12 months, the players have run until they puked, lifted until muscles screamed in agony, spent hundreds of hours in the gym shooting, dribbling, defending and learning all the nuances of the game under the tutelage of Utah’s only Naismith High School Hall of Fame coach and his staff.

The result was not only success, but just plain beautiful basketball as they made a sure and spectacular run through the state tournament until the prize they craved was theirs.

It was fun to watch them hoist the trophy, cut down the net and drench each other in a locker-room celebration, moments they had earned and will never forget.

It was equally gratifying to see the overwhelming support they got from their schoolmates and neighbors – the Lehi crowd was much bigger and noisier than the opponent’s, even though our city is appreciably farther away – at the arena, during the parade in town and at the school celebration.

But for me, the greatest pleasure and privilege was the chance to watch the players during their transformation as young men as they willingly sacrificed for each other and paid the full price of excellence.

The traits – including courage, heart, compassion, determination, thankfulness and so many others — that theydeveloped during their quest will go with them as the seven seniors, and later the other players in their turns, go out into the wider world.

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I predict that it will be a better place for those blessed to be around them as they apply the lessons they have learned in the crucible of prep competition to life situations of much greater and more lasting import as well as set positive examples for their peers and future families.

Their achievement does – and I believe their future contributions will – reflect credit upon the community that raised them, the school they represented, the families who got them to this point, and most of all, upon themselves.

Congratulations Pioneers, not only on fulfilling your lofty aspirations, but on how you got there.

You did us all proud.

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