From unwanted to stardom

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by Kyle Spencer, Sports Editor, @kyledspencer

The all-time leading scorer in the history of UVU basketball didn’t always think a professional basketball future was his destiny. The 6-foot-4-inch Toolson averaged 19 points per game and led Gilbert High School in Arizona to a 5A state championship his senior year, but Utah schools were hesitant to offer him a scholarship.

“I think I was the first one in the entire family to not go to BYU,” Toolson said. “It was always my dream to obviously go there and they did recruit me, but at the end of the day it kind of wound down to me and Mike Rose, who is the now-head coach’s nephew.”

“They went with him, and I still wanted to be in a good area, being a member of the church. Curtis Condie, who is now back being the assistant coach with coach Hunsaker right now, was recruiting me at Northern Arizona University and he moved over to UVU and kept recruiting me and I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

Toolson immediately became the team’s leading scorer his freshman season at UVU. After a two-year mission for the LDS church, Toolson returned to Utah Valley University without missing a beat. His sophomore season allowed him to demonstrate his ability to score from anywhere on the court which translated to national recognition on various all-Independent teams. Toolson shot 48 percent from the field and an unworldly 46 percent from three-point range. He only missed three free throws all season and led the nation, finishing 96-for-99 on the year (97 percent). His scoring and shooting brought renewed interest from bigger schools around the country.

“I actually requested a release after my sophomore year,” said Toolson. “I came back from my mission and was hoping that maybe another school would offer me and no one did, so I went back to UVU and requested a release and they didn’t give it to me. Looking back in hindsight I think it was a blessing in disguise. My sophomore year coach Hunsaker let me do what I wanted to do and it just continued and I got better and better over the course of my junior and senior year. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I would’ve transferred to a bigger and better school because I wouldn’t have probably had the opportunity to score as much as I did at UVU.”

If the release had been given, Toolson would’ve just been a name on a lengthy list of players that moved on to bigger schools to Wolverine fans, but former athletic director Mike Jacobsen refused to let that happen.

“This is the first time I’ve let anyone know,” Toolson said. “I think the AD is off the hook now because he’s retired, so it can come out. He just said that he was sick and tired of all the good players moving on to the U and BYU and other schools. I think he just finally needed to put his foot down and kind of let all of the student athletes know that we are now a university and we are a four-year school and we’re not a junior college anymore like before when we could’ve transferred after a year or two to another school. That’s just what he said, that he wanted me to stay and he was going to make that happen.

Though Toolson wasn’t thrilled with the decision to deny his request, he focused on what he could control. He began to dedicate as much of his time as he possibly could to his craft, and as a result his confidence grew.

“Going into my junior year I never thought that a professional basketball career was in the cards,” said Toolson. “I think I finished the season averaging 22 or 23 points a game and agents started getting a hold of coach Hunsaker and asking about me so coach kind of put that in my mind and it continued over my senior year.”

Once the realization settled in that he had an opportunity to play at the highest level, Toolson began to talk to his uncle, who happens to be the current President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, about playing professionally and selecting an agent after his senior year.

“We kind of narrowed it down, me and him, then I chose the agent that I still have now and he just said okay I’m going to go to work,” said Toolson. “I went and worked out with the Lakers, the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz. It was a fun experience. I did really well with the Sacramento Kings and with the Jazz and so they said they’d be interested in me possibly doing another workout with them.”

Though the additional workouts never came to fruition and Toolson watched as the draft came and passed without his name being called, he wowed Sacramento enough to receive an invite to play on their summer league team.

“I kind of had the bad luck of having them drafting Tyreke Evans,” said Toolson. “They originally wanted to put [Evans] at point guard and then they wanted to see how he would do at shooting guard, so he kind of took all of the shooting guards’ minutes. I was kind of left at the end of the bench and as soon as that happened my agent just started looking overseas and the best offer was in Turkey. That was my first year – I went to Turkey.”

Toolson was happy to land on a team that allowed him much of the same offensive freedom he enjoyed while at UVU, but financially it was not the best offer on the table. Yet Toolson once again impressed and continued his climb up the European ranks after being signed to play in Italy. Gran Canaria of the Spanish League came calling next, where Toolson experienced his latest success. Playing alongside former Utah State star Spencer Nelson, Toolson led the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and propelled his team all the way to the Spanish League semifinals, a first in the club’s history.

“The day after our last game in the semifinals a team from Spain made an offer and it was a great offer. It was from a Euro League team, which is the top league in all of Europe – the best league in the world that isn’t the NBA.”

Toolson signed with Unicaja Malaga of Spain and will compete in the same group as reigning Euro League champion Olympiacos during the upcoming season. He received a one-year contract this summer with the option for a second year.

Arriving at Europe’ top league and creating a prosperous financial situation for his family were among his hopes when he began playing overseas. Now he hopes to remain at Europe’s top level and compete for a championship. He’s already proved his doubters wrong but that doesn’t mean he’s content with his current legacy.

“Off the top of my head my goals would just be to stick in the Euro League,” said Toolson. “It’s very hard. You have to be a great player. Not only great, but consistently great. You can’t have a lot of ups and downs. I think my goal is to go all the way. I want to make it to the finals and maybe even win it.”