HYRUM — The best athletes perform at their highest level in the biggest games of the year.

Mountain Crest’s Faimafili Laulu-Pututau unquestionably did this. In four games against fellow tri-region champions Logan and Sky View — intense valley rivalry games, to boot — the son of Sauimalae and Ofisi Jr. Pututau absolutely shined as he averaged 19.25 points, 7.25 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

In front of a packed gym in Smithfield, Laulu-Pututau propelled the Mustangs to Region 5’s top seed by scoring 19 points and pulling down six rebounds in a 48-35 Mountain Crest win. It was Sky View’s only home loss of the season.

“Everyone kind of thinks about that and would like (to shine in those situations), but unless you’ve experienced that, there is a lot of pressure there,” MC head coach Graydon Buchmiller said. “And Mo was able to perform in those situations and those types of games, and even going into the last game of the regular season for the region championship, that was huge what he did. It tells you a lot about the mentality and the maturity that he’s been able to continue with and get to, and that’s just a great asset to have.”

Simply put, the athletic 6-foot-5 Laulu-Pututau played his best basketball at the end of the season. The junior scored in double figures in 11 of the Mustangs’ final 12 contests and finished with a game-high 19 points — on 9 for 12 shooting — in Mountain Crest’s season-ending loss to Provo in the quarterfinals of the 4A Boys Basketball Championships.

Because of his strong, consistent play in season-defining games, Laulu-Pututau has been tabbed The Herald Journal All-Valley Player of the Year.

It was a banner season for boys basketball in Cache Valley. Like Mountain Crest, Sky View and Logan, Preston won a district title, and the Indians captured theirs outright. Additionally, West Side finished with a winning record for the seventh straight season.

Local players were selected as conference MVPs in all three leagues valley athletes compete in. Quite simply, there were a lot of talented players this season, but nobody played better in the big games than Laulu-Pututau.

“It feels good. It’s just like you said with there being all those great players, it feels good to be player of the year,” said Laulu-Putatau, who was also named Region 5’s MVP. “And a lot of (the credit) goes to my coaches for making me work hard, and it’s easy when you’ve got great teammates, too.”

The standout football player — Laulu-Pututau has already verbally committed to BYU — had a couple of shaky games early in the season, but ended up being one of the state’s most versatile performers. After all, the Hyrum native earned first-team all-state honors from the Deseret News.

“(His consistency) means everything,” Buchmiller said. “You know, Mo is always a little bit slower going than a lot of players coming off of football because he puts all of his time and effort into that particular sport. So it usually is by a third or halfway through the season before he really gets into a flow, but once he’s in (the flow) we just knew that something good was going to happen (with him on the court).”

Laulu-Pututau was among the valley leaders in most major categories. No. 10 was Mountain Crest’s second-leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. Laulu-Pututau led the Mustangs in rebounds (6.9 per game), blocks (2.0 per game) and field goal percentage (56 percent) and ranked second and third, respectively, on the team in steals (1.9 per game) and assists (3.0 per game).

The soft-spoken Laulu-Pututau did everything well for Mountain Crest, which won six of its final seven games.

“I just take more pride in the fact that I did what my coaches wanted me to do, and that was just getting better every game,” he said. “And I thought I did all right in doing that.”

Indeed, Laulu-Putatau made significant strides in several aspects of his game, but none more so than his low post game. The junior, who has a very quick first step, was more of a get-to-the-rim-type player last year, but learned to finish around the basket with both hands this season.

“As the season continued on, it became more and more apparent that there really wasn’t too many (players) that were able to stay and keep up with Mo, especially down low,” Buchmiller said. “And it’s not something he’s particularly comfortable with. I think he likes to face up and do some things that way, but man he’s definitely got some abilities down low. And to be able to have someone who’s any inside-outside ... type of threat like Mo was, obviously that puts you in position to get to where we were at, at the end of the season.”

Laulu-Pututau’s prowess in the paint was particularly evident in Mountain Crest’s overtime loss to Sky View. No. 10 scored 23 points in that game and showcased a wide array of post moves.

“We worked a lot on post moves and not just being able to drive, and we also worked on shooting that mid-range jumper to develop more threats, weapons,” Laulu-Pututau said.

Mountain Crest will return three of its top four players next season and will undoubtedly have a target on its collective back. Like the true competitor he is, though, Laulu-Pututau relishes the challenge.

After all, that’s what great players do.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think it makes you better, it makes you play better, it makes you more focused and it makes you want to win more, knowing that people are coming after you.”

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR

Mason Lemmon, Jr., West Side

The Pirates entered the 2011-12 campaign having only one player with substantial varsity experience in JD Cook. Despite playing zero varsity minutes a season ago, Lemmon ended up being one of the valley’s most consistent performers.

Lemmon — “he was a very big surprise for us,” WS head coach Tyler Brown said — was a big reason why the Pirates finished second in the 2A Fifth District and was one state play-in victory away from qualifying for the eight-team playoff field for the sixth year in a row.

The athletic forward was a first-team all-district selection, finished second on the team in points (10.62 per game), led the team in blocks (1.4 per game) and pulled down 4.79 rebounds a game.

“He was our most consistent shooter, our most steady player,” Brown said. “Going into the season, I didn’t know what we’d have with Mason. I knew he was a gym rat ... and I think he’s just starting to grow into his body. And this year he really came through for us. ... I think Mason did a wonderful job.”

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Johnny Luke, Sr., Logan

During the football season, Luke proved to be one of the best defensive players on the field regardless of classification as he recorded a state-high 11 interceptions.

His ability to take the ball away from the opponent carried over from the gridiron to the hardwood.

Luke finished with 87 steals to rank third in the state and second in 4A. On top of that, the Grizzlies’ point guard had 13 blocks — second on the team.

“Johnny Luke was just a valuable asset for us in a lot of different areas,” Logan head coach Logan Brown said. “He used his athletic ability to make plays, which was a luxury for us on the defensive end.

“He also is one of those that grew a lot as a person in the last two years and I think that says a lot about him.”

Luke averaged 6.7 points, 3.6 assists, 4.0 steals and 4.6 rebounds per game.

FIRST TEAM

Baker Ward, Sr., Preston

Not many players are as offensively versatile as this Preston senior. The stout, but athletic forward was adept at knocking down 3-pointers, getting to the rim and posting up in the low blocks.

As a result, Ward led the valley in scoring as he averaged 16.7 points an outing. Ward was a consistent scorer, to boot, as he finished with 10 or more points in 20 of Preston’s 22 games. No. 10 poured in 20 or more points on six occasions and absolutely torched district rival Century with 34 points in a key road victory.

Ward, the 4A Fifth District Player of the Year, also finished second in the valley with 7.9 rebounds per game. The senior also buried a team-leading 36 3-pointers and dished out 2.1 assists a game.

“You knew every night what you were going to get from Baker,” PHS head coach Tyler Jones said. “He would leave it out there, leave it out on the court and give it 100 percent all the time. ... He made a lot of things happen and everybody followed him, and he just had a great senior season.”

JD Cook, Sr., West Side

Arguably no player in the valley meant more to his team than Cook, who has fought through several trials during his high school career.

Cook led an inexperienced West Side team to a 14-11 record in 2011-12. No. 11 led the Pirates in points (15.4 per game), assists (3.25 per game) and steals (2.12 per game), while also averaging 4.57 rebounds per contest.

“We only had two seniors going in (the season) and I knew that everybody would be keying in on JD, and JD had to learn how to distribute the ball better, and he did that real well,” Brown said. “So, he turned into a complete ball player. ... He could have scored more, but he had to get everybody else involved, too. But he meant everything to us, and it’s going to be tough to replace him.”

The senior was selected as the 2A Fifth District Player of the Year and also earned second-team all-state honors, which is “very unheard of to not make it to the state tournament and still get second-team all-state (accolades),” Brown said.

Casey Oliverson, Sr., Sky View

Very few players in the state were more dominant in the low post than this athletic 6-8 senior. Case in point: Oliverson, last year’s all-valley MVP, nearly averaged a double-double.

“When you can average a double-double a game, it’s huge,” SV head coach Kirk Hillyard said. “I think back to the Logan game when he had 23 rebounds. ... There’s not too many kids that come along with his size, leaping ability and that he could finish around the rim was pretty exciting.”

Oliverson averaged 14.2 ppg and pulled down 8.8 rebounds per game, which was tops in 4A. No. 32 finished with nine double-doubles, shot 58 percent from the floor and blocked 40 shots. The senior also made arguably the valley’s most memorable play this season when he forced overtime in a victory at Mountain Crest with a buzzer-beating 3-ball — his only trey of the season.

“He was fun to coach,” Hillyard said. “He was really coachable, he was a great team player and he always wanted to do what was best for the team.”

Jalen Moore, Jr., Sky View

Like Oliverson, Moore brought the Bobcat faithful to their feet on numerous occasions with rim-rattling dunks.

Like Oliverson, Moore also did a lot of things for his team. The Utah State commit led Sky View in points (14.7 per game) and assists (44) and finished second on the team in rebounds (4.8 per game) and steals (26).

The lanky 6-7 junior knocked down 52 percent of his shots and was a consistent scorer as he tallied 10 or more points in 19 of the Bobcat’s 22 games.

“For not having a lot of varsity experience, I thought Jalen did some really good things,” Hillyard said. “... When you’re 6-7 and can shoot like he can, it’s always fun. He kind of took that (scoring) role on and he worked really hard. He’s kind of a soft-spoken guy, as well, but he does work hard. He knows he’s got a lot of things to improve on, but he’s willing to work on that and he’s started on that already. It was pretty fun to watch him kind of progress as the season went on.”

Russell Murphy, Sr., Logan

Coming off a solid junior season for the Grizzlies, Murphy only got better as a senior.

Murphy led the team in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg). He also knocked down 26 3-pointers for Logan.

“Russell Murphy was our go-to guy a lot of the times,” Brown said. “He’s just a very versatile player that could play inside with the bigs and step outside and hit perimeter shots.

“He was our second-leading 3-point shooter and a strong rebounder. He really worked hard in the offseason, and that said a lot about what hard work does for you in the offseason because he dealt with a shoulder injury in the spring and was able to rehab it properly, come back and have a great senior season.”

SECOND TEAM

Luke Falk, Jr., Logan

After not playing with the Grizzlies last season, Falk returned and gave Logan an instant offensive weapon — outside and inside.

Falk finished second on the team in scoring (11.1 ppg), but led the Grizzlies with 37 3-pointers.

“Luke’s a very valuable player because he’s a clutch player for us,” Brown said. “He can hit shots when we need shots. He’s also just a very smart player.

“It was good to have him back after not playing basketball for a year. He came back in with an open mind and adapted really well. He was definitely one of our key points to us being successful this last year.”

Tyler Crosbie, Jr., Mtn. Crest

This hard-nosed junior began the season with a bang, pouring in 26 and 28 points, respectively, in the Mustangs’ first two games.

“Another thing about Tyler is you know he was going to get his points one way or the other,” Buchmiller said. “It’s not a matter of him just putting up shots, but he just had that sense of when we need a basket or he needs to get to the rim or be able to hit the outside shot.”

However, Crosbie, who led his team in points (14.6 per outing), was much more than a scorer for the Mustangs. No. 0 was an absolute ball hawk as he led 4A in steals per game with 4.0. Crosbie, who buried a team-leading 34 treys and averaged 3.3 apg, had nine steals against Logan, eight against Bonneville and seven on two other occasions.

“His ability to be able to see the ball and get his hands on some balls maybe other kids may have passed on just shows the competitive side of him and, again, where his maturity’s at,” Buchmiller said. “A year ago, he’s probably fouling (on those plays) and we’d have to sit him on the bench.”

Eddy Hall, Jr., Mtn. Crest

No. 5 wasn’t much of a scorer for Mountain Crest — he only averaged 6.05 ppg — but few players in the valley meant more to their team than Hall.

For starters, the point guard was the Mustangs’ emotional leader and was one of the region’s best defenders. More importantly, Hall rarely turned the ball over as he finished with a 3 to 1 assist-to-turnover-ratio. Hall was second in the valley with 3.7 apg and finished with 30 steals.

“You just can’t say enough about Eddy and what he was able to do, Buchmiller said. “He’s had some really incredible games. And for me as a head coach, to be able to sit back and trust and know that Eddy was going to be there and get the team set with what we needed to do (was reassuring). ... It’s a calming influence that sometimes necessarily (doesn’t really show up) in the stat line, but certainly helps us go, and in pressure situations I knew we were OK no matter what.”

Ty Nielsen, Jr., Sky View

This junior was quite possibly Sky View’s most versatile player. The athletic 6-3 Nielsen could man every position on the team except for center “if we needed him to,” Hillyard said.

“He can definitely do a lot,” Hillyard said. “He’s so long and athletic and quick, that it’s fun to watch him on the defensive end put pressure on guys. And he was kind of our guy that we were able to put on quicker guys. ... And the kid works hard the whole time he’s out there on the floor. He works extremely hard and, once again, he’s very coachable as well.”

No. 12 led the Bobcats in steals (33) and deflections (26), and finished second to Oliverson in blocks with 15. Nielsen, who averaged 4.4 rpg, was also an efficient scorer as he averaged 9.0 ppg on 52 percent shooting.

“And he’s a really fun kid to be around, and kids see that as well,” Hillyard said. “They like playing with Ty because he’s unselfish that way and a good teammate.”

Wyatt Christensen, Sr., Preston

There are a lot of reasons the high-scoring Indians went on a 10-game winning streak and captured the 4A Fifth District regular season title outright. Christensen was certainly one of the biggest reasons.

“He set the tone for us by pushing the ball and getting us easy baskets and easy transition points,” Jones said.

Preston’s speedy point guard led the valley in assists with 4.2 per contest. Christensen, a first-team all-district selection, also led the team in steals (1.6 per game) and was Preston’s second-leading scorer (9.5 ppg). No. 3 also shined in the Fifth District All-Star Game as he was selected as the MVP.

“To be a successful team, you have to have a great point guard, and Wyatt was that,” Jones said. “He was one of two guys coming back with varsity experience, and again I couldn’t have asked for better leadership out of Wyatt and our other seniors and captains this year.”

———

Herald Journal sports writer Wade Denniston contributed to this report.

2011-12 HERALD JOURNAL ALL-VALLEY TEAM

Player of the Year — Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, Jr., Mtn. Crest

Newcomer of the Year — Mason Lemmon, Jr., West Side

Defensive Player of the Year — Johnny Luke, Sr., Logan

First Team

Jalen Moore, Jr., Sky View

Casey Oliverson, Sr., Sky View

Baker Ward, Sr., Preston

JD Cook, Sr., West Side

Russell Murphy, Sr., Logan

Second Team

Tyler Crosbie, Jr., Mtn. Crest

Eddy Hall, Jr., Mtn. Crest

Wyatt Christensen, Sr., Preston

Luke Falk, Jr., Logan

Ty Nielsen, Jr., Sky View

Honorable Mention

LOGAN: Joe Bennion, Sr.; Dallin Dahl, Jr.; Jordan Larsen, Jr.; Tyler Brimhall, Fr.

MTN. CREST: Cody Perkes, Sr.; Justin Petersen, Sr.

SKY VIEW: Riley Knowles, Sr.; Michael Berentzen, Sr.; Braden Hellstern, Sr.

PRESTON: Collin Rounds, Sr.; Brennyn Dunn, Sr.; Ryan Wakley, Sr.; Karingtyn Hobbs, Sr.

WEST SIDE: Jaxon Smart, Jr.; Tate Fuller, Jr.; Dylan Turnbow, Jr.

IN-DEPTH WITH LAULU-PUTUTAU

Favorite food: Mom’s chop suey.

Dream vacation: Samoa (Pututau is half Samoan).

Favorite practical joke: Scare people around the house.

Favorite genre of music: R&B.

Favorite subject: Math, especially algebra.

Favorite sports movie: Gridiron Gang.

Funniest person at MC: There’s a lot of funny at Mountain Crest ... but probably Bridger Dayley.

Pre-game ritual: To chill.

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