By Randy Hollis
SALT LAKE CITY — If Elijah Kletzli keeps playing like this, maybe more people will start to take notice and the 6-foot-7 Davis High School senior will get a chance to play college basketball.
Kletzli hit 10-of-12 shots on his way to a game-high 20 points, and he also pulled down 11 rebounds in the Darts’ impressive 67-37 victory over Herriman in Tuesday’s opening round of the 5A boys state tournament at the Huntsman Center.
Kletzli hasn’t committed to play for a college program yet and has yet to receive a scholarship offer, but he’s beginning to get more attention as time goes on — especially after averaging nearly 17 points and almost 9 rebounds a game this season.
He credits his coach, Jay Welk, to helping him make great strides and improve as a player as he prepared for his senior season.
“A lot of it came in the summer,” Kletzli said. “Coach Welk pushed me to be better, making me better play with all my teammates around me, making sure that I don’t take bad shots, making sure I’m getting smart and pushing me to be better.
“He still pulls me aside if I’m struggling and he’ll lift me up and make sure I keep my head in it mentally and my teammates pick me up, too.”
Coach Welk said a key ingredient of Kletzli’s stellar senior season is his increased belief in himself.
“Elijah just needs to believe in Elijah,” Welk said. “When he does that, he’s really good. He’s skilled.
“What he’s doing might be a surprise to everybody else, but it’s not a surprise to his teammates or his coaching staff at all. He’s a player, and the interest in him is just picking up and picking up.”
Davis took this year’s Region 1 title, piled up a 19-game winning streak and, with Tuesday’s lopsided win, improved to 20-2 overall. But Kletzli says the Darts are far from reaching their ultimate goal.
“It’s great to have success, but it’s also important that we don’t get complacent,” he said. “We’ve had struggles at times, and it’s a matter of getting better each and every game.”
They’ve done it with a diversified scoring attack which features four players in double figures — junior guard Jesse Wade at 17.2 points per game, Kletzli (16.9 ppg), senior guard Abel Porter (14.2) and senior swingman Matt Morrell (10.7).
“I said this before the tournament started. I said find another 5A team in the state that’s got four guys averaging in double figures,” Welk said. “We’re one of those teams and we’re an athletic team.
“We realize we can be better; we realize there’s great teams, this tournament has got excellent teams in it. Like I said, we feel good about our team, but it’s just one game.”
Welk said the key for his team, and pretty much everybody else, is defense.
“I think if you talk about any team in almost any sport, it comes down to that,” he said. “Especially in tournament play, if you’re gonna advance in the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to stop people. Because if your shots aren’t dropping, you’d better make sure they’re not dropping for the other team, either, and you’re keeping them from scoring.
“And there’s times when our shots just don’t go. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re keeping them from scoring to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Welk attributed Tuesday’s first-round win to a stellar defensive effort led by senior guard Jaydon Ryan, who harrassed Herriman’s leading scorer, David Maynard, into going 4-of-12 from the field on his way to 11 points — less than half his season-long average of 23-plus ppg.
And Porter’s ability to be an unselfish floor general who runs the Darts’ offense with great precision and pinpoint passing is also a huge key to their success this season.
“I love the kid,” Welk said of Porter. “He runs the show offensively; he’s the coach on the floor. He’s the verbal guy; I just can’t say enough good about him. He does a great job. He’s the guy that runs it out there.
“I thought our execution tonight was really good in our sets, and he’s the guy getting us into it, making sure we do what we need to do.”