"I think his progress has been amazing," Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister said.
They've been fun fun to follow this season, that's for sure. My interest in Shorts naturally stemmed from his being named for two of the Utah Jazz's Hall of Fame players, John Stockton and Karl Malone. His parents, Rylan and Kelly, are the fans of the legends partly for reasons beyond basketball.
They wanted their first son to be humble and hard-working, as they perceive Stockton and Malone. If basketball was their son's birthright, though, that part is working out well. Shorts is among the state's leading scorers with a 24-point average, having led the Grizzlies with 17 points in a 62-41 win over Weber in Monday's first round.
Born in 1998, four months after the Jazz made their second consecutive NBA Finals appearance, Shorts could win a state championship in the same month as the '97 team holds a reunion in Salt Lake City.
Playing for Copper Hills in the southwestern Salt Lake Valley, Shorts wears No. 12 just as Stockton did, and as his father did as a point guard for Green River's 1A state title team in 1991. Having become bigger and stronger since I watched him as a sophomore, the 6-4 guard is an aggressive driver. Now that he's the biggest name for a contending team, fans tend to ride him. "I love it," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all. It actually fuels me more than it does affect me."
Shorts is not being recruited heavily, but he has a strong AAU background in addition to his high school exploits as a three-year starter and should thrive at one level or another.
Van Komen, meanwhile, is attracting plenty of attention from college coaches who imagine how they might be able to develop a 7-3 player from Utah County. Most of the University of Utah staff watched him play Monday at the Huntsman Center, where he posted 12 points and 12 rebounds in a 48-45 defeat of Davis. He was credited with three blocked shots; more tellingly, the Darts shot 23.5 percent from the field.
Van Komen's conditioning has improved, although he clearly needs to get stronger. But he's showing more basketball savvy all the time, and his coach credits him for dealing well with the pushing and shoving tactics of opponents. "His mentality has stayed good, he hasn't gotten frustrated," McAllister said. "He's stayed with it and kept working."
In my story last summer that featured Van Komen among 7-foot players of the past and present in Utah basketball, I noted the research of "The Sports Gene." According to the book, 17 percent of 7-foot people living in the United States will play in the NBA at some point. That's remarkable, considering that only 3 of 33 such players on the all-time rosters of college basketball programs in Utah have reached the NBA.
Van Komen might be next, although he's not looking too far ahead. "Just got to get to college, first of all," he said Monday.
Before then, he'll have three opportunities for a state high school championship, including this week when his team may have to go through Stockton Shorts to get a title shot.