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Excell-ent evening: Longtime Ben Lomond coach, AD gets honor of lifetime in court naming

By Bob Judson - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 27, 2023
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Evan Excell and wife, Nicki, smile during a halftime ceremony to name the basketball court at Ben Lomond High School after Evan, a former, longtime coach and athletic director at BLHS, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond guard Jaxon Watson dribbles against Grantsville on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Evan Excell is honored during a ceremony to name the basketball court at Ben Lomond High School after him on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, at BLHS in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond forward Zach Pringle drives against Grantsville on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond's Jordan Harrison, rear, contends with Grantsville's Eli Mondragon (24) for a rebound on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond's Manase Tuatagaloa drives up the court against Grantsville on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond forward Jake East sizes up a Granstville defender on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Grantsville's Eli Mondragon, front, fights for the ball with Ben Lomond's Manase Tuatagaloa on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond forward Jake East prepares to shoot against Grantsville on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.
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Ben Lomond guard Jaxon Watson drives against Granstville on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Ogden.

OGDEN -- The dim, creaky old gymnasium where former Ben Lomond boys basketball coach Evan Excell plied his trade from 1978-94 -- including a state championship in 1986 with players like Kurt Miller, Eddie Green and Larry Cain -- is now a paved parking lot.

It has been replaced by a sparkling, well-lit, cozy arena, part of a $30 million campus rebuild.

Although Excell will never coach a single second in the new facility, he leaves a long-lasting legacy, cemented by the naming of the Evan Excell Basketball Court at halftime of the Ben Lomond-Grantsville boys basketball game Friday.

"I'm overwhelmed; humbled. I can't believe it's really happening," Excell said at a meet-and-greet reception an hour and a half before tipoff. "It's like a dream. I don't even know what to say. It's such an honor. I loved my years here. They were special.

"I represent a whole lot of people, that they would put my name on the floor. There's a lot of people in my life that made this happen," he said.

As a sidelight, there was a game to be played around the ceremonies at halftime, and while the feel-goods extended into the third quarter, Ben Lomond lost a 46-36 decision to Grantsville in a Region 13 battle.

Ben Lomond led 10-8 after the first quarter and trailed 18-17 at the break.

Halftime was 15 minutes instead of the traditional 10, to shoehorn everything in, and the current edition of the Scots came out of the locker room early and sat on the bench to witness the events.

"I tried to take a couple of minutes to make some adjustments and then we went back to the court to honor Coach Excell, who I have a ton of respect for," Ben Lomond assistant coach Jethro Helmbrecht said. "It was good for the kids to see what's possible here."

Hunter Christensen hit a baseline jumper to give the Scots a brief 19-18 lead opening the third quarter.

"Honestly, if I had known some of coach's plays from '86, I would have ran one of them tonight," Helmbrecht said. "I'm glad we put on a good show for coach's family and his friends and players. It was really good to have everybody come back to honor coach and see some good basketball. Our kids got to see a lot of great players from back then.

"I took all the kids to our trophy room and showed them all of the trophies Coach Excell had; showed them that Kurt Miller is in the Hall of Fame; showed them his retired jersey, those types of things. That's the kind of stuff our kids need to see to build our program."

But the Cowboys went on a 9-2 run to grab a 27-21 advantage midway through the period, which grew to 32-23 late in the stanza.

"We didn't lose focus, but sometimes when one or two things go bad, we have a tendency to get down on ourselves and it's hard to recover," Helmbrecht said.

The Scots (2-15, 1-4 Region 13) did recover somewhat, closing the third quarter on a 4-0 run, making it 32-27 after three. When Jake East went inside for a basket at the 6:29 mark of the final frame, suddenly it was 32-29 with plenty of time remaining.

Grantsville (14-5, 4-1) then regrouped and went on a 10-zip run, effectively putting the game away (42-29) with 2:27 left.

The Scots thus continued a puzzling trend where they are competitive for much of a game, but the final score doesn't reflect their effort.

"We've had a lot of close games recently; Grantsville's a great team. For us to have the success we've had in our last few games, close contests with Ogden, South Summit and now Grantsville, we're building on something that we were struggling with," Helmbrecht said. "We graduated 12 seniors from our team last year; we have just one kid (East) that contributed varsity minutes last year. We're still learning how to play basketball. Things are starting to click at the right time, at the end of region and going into the state playoffs."

East led Ben Lomond with 12 points, while Christensen and Davian Munoz scored six each.

In just another good omen of the moment, Grantsville happened to have warm-up jerseys on with the word EXCELLENCE stitched on the back shirt tail -- unintended, but another nod to Coach Excell and his legacy.

"There are so many people here tonight that I'm blessed to be associated with. I came here in 1978 and had 16 wonderful years that I'll never forget," Excell said during the halftime ceremonies, standing next to his wife Nicki at center court. "Our coaching staff was second to none. We had each other's backs. The players I owe everything to. We love you, Scots."

A banner unfurled commemorating the event will hang at one end of the gym until logos can be placed on the court -- probably this summer, according to Ben Lomond athletic director Kable Smith.

A touching tribute for a coach and a man who has touched so many lives.

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