SYRACUSE — Braden Hamblin was sitting in his classroom at Syracuse High one day, surrounded by Green Bay Packers posters and cutouts (a Brett Favre cutout greets people who come through the door).
He was watching film from the girls basketball season that had ended a few weeks earlier, trying to put together some player highlights for the upcoming team banquet.
One thing stood out.
“It’s just really amazing to me how far we came over the season. There were some brutal games early on that tested our willpower a little bit,” Hamblin said. “I just feel like we took leaps and bounds. The girls bought in and it really showed.”
In a year following a last-place finish in Region 1, Hamblin led a young Syracuse girls basketball team into a tie for second place and 14 total wins, the most since the 2011-12 unbeaten state championship season.
All as a 28-year-old, first-year head coach.
Hamblin is the 2019 Standard-Examiner All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. He didn’t know what to expect this year with predominantly young players in the program.
It was an up-and-down season that didn’t give anyone outside the program a true idea of how good the Titans were until the final three weeks of the season. They started non-region play 7-2, but four of those games were against 4A teams.
The Titans started their region campaign 2-4 and it seemed they would be the classic “not prepared for a tough region” type of team.
Not even close.
The revenge tour started with a win over Layton. Two consecutive wins followed against Clearfield and Northridge before another playoff-critical game against Weber.
The Titans won that one, 41-32, avenging another loss. Then they avenged a loss to Davis, beating the Darts by 10.
“It was very rewarding to me to see that talent that I thought we had show through,” Hamblin said.
From 2-4 to 7-4 in the region, Syracuse had a head of steam that Fremont promptly knocked away, which sent the Titans into the No. 3 seed and, eventually, a 16-point loss to Westlake in the first round of the playoffs.
Here was the kind of team Syracuse was at the end: the five leading scorers averaged between 5.9 to 7.4 points per game and the Titans went 5-3 in games decided by 10 points or less.
The only thing Hamblin knew upon graduating from Syracuse in 2009 was that he was going to college at Weber State. He didn’t have teaching or coaching in mind.
But right after graduation from Syracuse, both the football and basketball head coaches asked him to come back and help coach the sophomore teams.
“The more I did it, the more I realized that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
When he graduated from Weber State, Syracuse didn’t have a teaching job opening. So Hamblin went to Layton and helped coach boys basketball the year the Lancers had the Blackmon brothers and won the state championship.
“I was with the sophomores. I still got a ring,” he said.
If the Syracuse team that beat Bonneville 31-28 in the Nov. 20 season opener were to play the same Syracuse team that lost to Westlake 53-37 on Feb. 18 in the playoffs, Hamblin thinks the latter version would win by at least double digits.
So that was obviously an exciting testament to how much the Titans improved. The other exciting part?
Four of Syracuse’s five leading scorers were a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.