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Former Provo High stars coming back to revive boys basketball program | News, Sports, Jobs

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New Provo High boys basketball coach Kenny Hardy (right) talks to assistant coach Chris Collinsworth at practice on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

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New Provo High boys basketball coach Kenny Hardy gives instructions during a practice on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

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Provo High boys basketball players warm up before practice on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

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State championship banners on display at Provo High School in the gym. The Bulldogs have won 17 state titles.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

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Provo High boys basketball players stretch before a practice on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Darnell Dickson/Daily Herald

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“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

—British statesman and politician Benjamin Disraeli

Provo High School has one of the enduring legacies in Utah boys basketball with 17 state championships, the first in 1941. Jim Spencer won five state titles (1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983) and was succeeded by Craig Drury, who won eight more championships (1985, 1987, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2008). Drury retired after the 2014-15 season with 527 wins and was replaced by long-time Provo assistant Don Johnson.

The past six years, the Bulldogs have gone 54-109 with just two state tournament victories. Last season, Provo limped to a 1-21 mark.

Clearly, something had to change.

Former Bulldog Kenny Hardy has been hired to reconstruct the winning legacy of Provo basketball and he’s bringing him an all-star lineup of assistant coaches: Former Bulldog superstars Jake Chrisman and brothers Chris and Kyle Collinsworth.

They want to create a culture of success on and off the court, emphasizing the basic Provo High defensive principles and accountability they were taught in their youth.

“The stars kind of aligned,” Hardy said. “I honestly couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun it would be to become mentors and teach these kids to be good young men. I talked to Kyle, Chris and Jake and made sure they were in. When they all committed, that’s when I applied.”

bulldog in his blood

Hardy was a tough-as-nails guard for Drury in the mid-1990’s, helping Provo to a state title in 1995. He was an assistant for Drury for several years before leaving to earn a master’s of law from the University of Miami and a master’s in sports management from West Virginia. He returned to Utah to work at a small law firm in Vernal and took the Uintah boys basketball head coaching job.

Uintah is a tweener when it comes to Utah prep basketball because of its isolation. The school is too big to be in a region with the small schools in the area but struggled to win against large-school competition. When Hardy took the job, Uintah was moving up from Class 3A to Class 4A.

“If you want to find out how good of a coach you are,” Hardy said with a wry smile, “Go coach at Uintah.”

After three years as a head coach, Hardy moved back to the Utah Valley and became an assistant for Jimmy DeGraffenried at Salem Hills, specializing in defense. The Skyhawks won a 4A state title in 2018 and DeGraffenried stepped down. Hardy was in line to take over the program but the school’s administration went in a different direction, hiring Blake Francom. Hardy coached with Francom the past several years while working in real estate law and as a real estate broker.

All the while, I watched his beloved Provo High basketball program struggle. He heard it from alumni still living in the area on a daily basis: What’s wrong with the Bulldogs?

When the head coaching job opened up, Hardy considered making a move.

“The only way I was doing this was to go with the guys I wanted, and that’s what I told the interview committee,” Hardy said. “I knew people would be excited about this. These guys all have a great basketball pedigree but they still have a lot to learn about coaching. We just wanted to restore some of the excitement and confidence of the kids in Provo High basketball.”

Hardy had a big supporter on the interview committee in former Provo and University of Utah star Lori Red Castagnetto. Her son Aaron led Provo in scoring two seasons ago (21 points per game) and just completed his first year at USU-Eastern. There are two more sons coming up in the program including Isaac, a sophomore who averaged 12.9 points per game for the Bulldogs last season.

Hardy and his assistants are fully aware they’ve taken on a pretty big rebuilding job.

“We know that it will take a while to turn it around,” Hardy said. “We haven’t arrived yet and we know there’s a ton of work to do.”

Mr Triple-Double

Kyle Collinsworth was a four-year starter at Provo, leading the Bulldogs to a pair of state titles. He played his freshman year at BYU in 2010-11, riding the wave of Jimmer Fredette to the NCAA Sweet 16. After serving a church mission to Russia, Collinsworth returned and became the all-time NCAA men’s basketball leader in triple-doubles (12 ).

His professional career has taken him through the G League, a couple of years with the Dallas Mavericks and now with SeaHorses Mikawa in the Japan Professional Basketball League.

Hardy was an assistant at Provo when Collinsworth played there and they have teamed up for a business named “Defensive Love,” a series of basketball camps that specialize in defense. When he was considering the Provo job, Hardy said his first call from him was to Kyle Collinsworth.

“This was kind of a package deal,” Collinsworth said. “If Kenny was going to do it, I was going to do it. We’ve been talking about doing something like this for the past five years. Kenny knows everything about coaching and what it takes to play Provo defense. We understand what Provo High is. We’re trying to bring the tradition and winning culture back. That “tough-enough-to-do-the-hard-things” mindset on and off the court, that’s what we want.”

Collinsworth said he will return to Provo after the basketball season is over in Japan to work with the team this spring and summer, continuing to work around his professional career for the time being.

another legacy guy

Chris Collinsworth also starred at Provo, winning the Utah Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007 while leading the Bulldogs to a state title. His career at BYU was cut short due to injury but he played in 44 games and earned a reputation as a rugged defender and premier rebounder. He served his church mission in Australia between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Collinsworth works in the private sector at James Franklin Meats and also owns a software business. Recently while fulfilling his young men’s calling at church, Collinsworth got into a discussion about basketball.

“Provo High basketball has never been good,” the teenage boys argued.

“I had to put on my ‘Uncle Rico’ shirt and tell them about all the state championship Provo has won,” Collinsworth said. “The state championship banners weren’t even up in the gym until last season. A lot of the guys in the program only know Provo High in struggling basketball.”

The Collinsworth brothers and Chrisman fully endorsed Hardy for the head coaching job, never considering applying themselves.

“We’re not that stupid,” Chris Collinsworth said. “We knew we needed someone with a high school coaching experience. We’re really excited about building good young men and doing things right on and off the court. But I’d be lying to you if I said our goal wasn’t to win championships.”

The two-sport star

Chrisman earned all-state honors in basketball and baseball at Provo High. He played both sports at BYU from 2000-2002 and eventually transferred to BYU-Hawaii to finish out his career, averaging better than 20 points per game for the Seasiders. I have played a few years of pro basketball overseas before a pair of ACL tears forced his retirement from him. Chrisman came back to Provo and has been working for the Utah Municipal Power Agency in Spanish Fork. He also started a baseball club program that featured teams from different age groups.

Chrisman said has been consistently approached by former Provo players and fans about the possibility of working to bring the Bulldogs back to relevance.

“I’ve always been a fan of Kenny,” Chrisman said. “He was relentless as a player and he would not quit. I grew up watching him and I know the type of person he is. He’s an Alpha but he’s willing to teach and build up guys around him. He knows how to promote what Provo High basketball is all about. If someone outside of the program took over, that Bulldog heritage would be lost, and that would be significant.”

The new coaching staff has been working with the player for just over a week, preparing for an upcoming tournament at Salem Hills.

“We’re not naive to the fact that it’s going to take time,” Chrisman said. “But we have the time to really push these kids to buy into the culture and the system we’re bringing. We’re going to be defense first. The best offense comes from playing good defense. These guys are going to have a lot of fun doing the little things to convert that defense into offense.”

climbing a mountain

More than a decade ago, former BYU and NFL running back Jamal Willis took over the Payson High football program and brought along a number of his college teammates to be assistants. Opposing coaching staffs took a lot of pleasure in beating Willis, running up the score if they could.

The situation at Provo is different because of Hardy’s extensive high school coaching experience, but don’t think for a minute that opponents won’t take great relish in beating the Bulldogs and their former stars as they try to turn this corner.

“When we played at Provo High, we had a target on our back every single game,” Hardy said. “That’s where we want to get back to. We have a pretty impressive staff and that’s going to raise people’s expectations. Either we’re going to respond or we won’t. We want people to think, ‘Watch out, Provo High is coming into the gym.’ But our kids have to earn that.”

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