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Team of the Year: Layton puts aside ego to win battles, go undefeated in Region 1

2024 Standard-Examiner All-Area Boys Basketball Team of the Year

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Mar 30, 2024
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Layton's Mekhi Martin (1) handles the ball against Farmington in the 6A quarterfinals Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Layton's KJ Miller (42) dribbles against Farmington's Jayden Haskell (23) in the 6A quarterfinals Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Layton's David Katoa dunks the ball against Farmington in the 6A quarterfinals Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Salt Lake City.
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Layton High boys basketball coach Kelby Miller gestures during the 6A semifinals Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Salt Lake City.




There’s no secret or magic formula behind the success of Layton High’s boys basketball team.

It’s what every coach aims for and every team tries: hard work, upperclassmen mentoring underclassmen, and a lack of ego creating a balanced roster that opponents have a difficult time dealing with.

Combine that with some top-level talent and a one-game-at-a-time approach, though, and Layton created that magic better than anyone.

The Lancers went 24-2, won their first undefeated region championship in program history, claimed Region 1 for their first region title in seven years, and advanced to the state semifinals.

Layton is the 2024 Standard-Examiner All-Area Boys Basketball Team of the Year.

With senior leaders in Mekhi Martin and KJ Miller, Layton had high expectations for the 2023-24 season. The Lancers had been to the state semifinals three times since their 2015 state championship, so head coach Kelby Miller has a feel for when things seem to be lining up.

“We’ve been pretty blessed at Layton High to have some good teams come through,” Kelby Miller said. “Our goals every year are to win a region championship and compete for a state championship. … You kind of know going into that you should be in the mix for both those things and these guys lived up to it.”

Layton started 11-0 and a theme emerged: this team was great at winning close games.

The first was a two-overtime win over Timpview, who finished as a 5A state semifinalist. Then a two-point win at Northridge, a one-point win over Murray (a 4A quarterfinalist) and an overtime victory over Mountain View.

“We kept finding ways to win and I think that really showed the grit of our team early on,” KJ Miller, a senior guard, said. “We were playing respectable teams and … I was really excited about that.”

One of Layton’s two losses came on the road at Olympus as non-region play wound down, a 75-70 defeat to the team that went on to win the 5A state championship. (The other loss was to 6A runner-up Corner Canyon in the state semis.)

“We lost so it’s kind of weird to say that it made me happy, but to lose to Olympus with all their guys and we were down two starters … that really showed that hey, we have a lot of young guys but we can run with anyone if we want to,” KJ Miller said.

One of those two missing starters was big man Josh Checketts, who dealt with knee problems that required some rest.

The other was a classic ace-in-the-hole situation.

Senior guard David Katoa grew up in Layton playing ball with Martin and Miller but took a different high school path. He played at Real Salt Lake Academy’s charter school as a junior, but that program folded and/or moved and became Utah Prep Academy, and Katoa returned to his boundary school.

With his team 11-1, Katoa hadn’t played yet as he recuperated from a knee injury. With Checketts out for a stretch and Katoa in, the team somewhat changed its identity but kept winning.

Layton opened region play by blowing out Syracuse by 23; while adept at close games, the Lancers had five 20-point-plus victories and 12 of their 24 wins were by double digits.

But the one-possession battles didn’t stop, either. Region 1 was expected to be anyone’s to claim entering the season, with at least eight committed or likely-to-sign college prospects throughout the region. So Layton held off Davis by two on the road, then beat Farmington in overtime.

On Feb. 13 with a chance to clinch the Region 1 title, Layton did it one final time, beating Weber 77-74 to go 9-0 in one-possession or overtime games. Given the talent in the region, going 10-0 to claim the trophy was its own feat, too.

Several of the close games highlighted Layton’s balance.

It was junior Sam Romer who made a layup and a 3-pointer at the buzzers in the wins over Murray and Mountain View in consecutive days.

It was Katoa who drained a cold-blooded 3-pointer in the final minute for the road win at Davis.

In the region-clinching win at Weber, in which the Warriors’ Malachi Spencer scored 27 points and Hunter Schenck 24, it was Martin scoring 22 with five 3-pointers, Miller ending a long run of trading leads with a 3, and Romer and Jonah Fullmer hauling in big offensive rebounds in crunch time to seal it.

Before the season, KJ Miller said he and Martin knew it was their job to toughen up the underclassmen, get rough with them in practice and get them ready for the season. In the end, he rattled off contribution after contribution going eight players deep for his teammates.

“Sam had a huge season … Jonah is one of the most underrated guys … Josh showed he was ready for the tough games … Karter (Miller) came in as a freshman and backed up Mekhi at point,” were among KJ Miller’s list.

Martin led the team at 17.8 points per game, Katoa scored 17.7 and won Region 1 MVP, KJ Miller had 14.2, Romer 12.4, Cade Tidwell 6.6, Checketts 5.8 and Fullmer 5.5.

“It was our goal to have four guys in double figures every night,” Kelby Miller said. “If teams tried to pack the paint and take away Dave’s and Mekhi’s driving ability, we had guys like KJ and Cade who hit shots for us … if they tried to take away KJ and Sam on the 3-point line, Dave Katoa and Mekhi Martin could drive and hit shots for us.”

Martin said that started early in the season.

“Everyone just came into the season buying in. We knew we had a lot of good pieces,” Martin said. “There was that big three of me, KJ and Dave but the younger guys knew they had to contribute, other teams weren’t just going to let us go by them … other guys knowing we’re going to draw the best defenders, we had to take advantage of that.”

Katoa returned to Layton as somewhat of a big man on campus, having already committed to the University of Utah. KJ Miller signed to Cal State San Marcos, and Martin had plenty of college interest (he eventually committed to Snow College).

For some teams, that might be a problem. But Martin said there was plenty of camaraderie throughout the roster and Kelby Miller thought it worked in their advantage.

“Those guys just wanted to win basketball games, so I wasn’t too worried about ego coming into the equation,” Kelby Miller said. “They were kind of set as far as college goes, so I wasn’t too worried that those guys would be chasing stats. Winning was the main thing on those guys’ minds.”

Martin and KJ Miller became the third and fourth 1,000-point scorers in the program’s history, and Katoa contributed all over the stat sheet, so there’s a lot to replace. Martin thinks the Lancers have enough players to remain good.

“The guys bought it and wanted one thing, and next year I think they’ll have the same thing,” Martin said.


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