Photo by Brigham Berthold
It has become apparent early in the season for the UVU men’s basketball team that the Toolson’s, Conner and Jake, will play an integral role both on and off the court.
During the road trip to begin the season termed the “Toughest 24,” where UVU played No. 5 Kentucky and No. 1 Duke on back-to-back nights, Conner played 34 minutes against the Wildcats and Jake, his second cousin, banked 34 minutes the next night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The third game of the season, at Idaho State, they both played over 30 minutes to help the Wolverines secure their first win of the year.
Jake made a strong first impression as a Wolverine at Kentucky when he scored several buckets by taking the ball hard to the rim, part of 11 points on the night. In Pocatello a few days later, the Toolson’s combined for 36 points against Idaho State. Jake was a red hot 12-of-15 from the field, including a couple of 3-pointers for 27 points and Conner drained three 3-pointers for nine points, showing just how much of an impact the two can make.
Jake transferred from BYU after his freshman year and had to sit out last season per NCAA regulations. After spending last season practicing with the team and then watching from the bench during games, he said it feels good to be back out on the court playing for something meaningful.
“It was frustrating; it was hard,” Toolson said. “It was a good experience for me though because I was able to remove myself from the competition and focus on myself, my growth as a person and as a player. I’m more prepared for the season now due to the work I put in while I was sitting out.”
A void was felt in the team after senior Hayden Schenck went down with a season-ending leg injury in a preseason game against Dixie State. Schenck is a tough defender whose hard-nosed approach often rubbed off on the team.
“With Hayden out, [Jake] has taken on a vocal leadership role on our team,” Pope said. “He’s a great communicator with our guys.”
Conner played his first college season for Salt Lake Community College before transferring to UVU. He said there was an adjustment to be made jumping from the junior college game to a Division I program like UVU, which requires players to spend more time watching film, working out and practicing.
An example of the commitment basketball entails came in the form of Pope asking Conner to not only work to put on more muscle mass during the offseason, but during the season as well. Pope believes the added strength will help Toolson rebound the ball more efficiently and sustain his ability to finish at the rim late in games.
As for Pope, he sees Conner and Jake as a good support for each other and assigned the Toolson’s to room together on the road. They both said they use the time together to talk about basketball and how to make each other better.
Conner said that even though he and Jake grew up going to basketball camps together, there is no competition between the relatives. Jake expressed the same sentiment.
“Conner and I are just trying to win games,” Jake said. “I tell him to shoot the ball. He tells me to shoot the ball.”
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.