A rather tall but rotund seventh-grader caught my eye about 10 years ago while officiating a junior high tournament game in Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
I learned his name was Harper Kamp, and that all season long he had starred for the Tonto Village Shelby School team.
Watching him play, I soon realized Kamp was an exceptional player who had skills and ability far beyond his young age.
He also reeked with the potential and intensity that any high school coach would love to tap into.
But as good as he was, I knew he would probably never play a second for Payson High.
My doubts were because the previously most talented athlete to ever play for Shelby School, Dallas Rensch, left Payson High in 2000 disgruntled after one season with the Longhorns.
He then transferred to 5A powerhouse Mesa Mountain View High to play for a coach, Gary Ernst, who has a reputation for churning out Division I prospects.
After two standout varsity seasons with the Toros, Dallas earned a scholarship to the University of Southern Utah.
During Kamp’s years at Shelby, he was coached by Dallas’s father, Steve Rensch. That connection made it understandable when Kamp passed on attending Payson High, opting instead to play for Ernst at MMV.
There, he led the Toros to three state championships, and in 2005 — as a sophomore — was named the Arizona Player of the Year. That MMV team finished the year 32-1. Although an ankle injury slowed him his junior season, he recovered later to be voted the regional player of the year.
By the time his prep career was over, he had been named all-state three consecutive seasons and was one of the most sought after D-1 recruits in the state.
I was hoping he would eventually enroll at Arizona State, but instead the 6-foot, 8-inch, 255-pounder chose the University of California.
As a freshman, he was named honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman, averaging 4.4 ppg and 2.5 rpg.
Last weekend, he played strong roles in the Bears’ wins over both Arizona and Arizona State.
Watching him on television, I couldn’t help but wonder “What if?”
What if he’d have gone to Payson High?
How good could the Longhorns been with him at the low post? I’m betting pretty darn good.
What if he’d enrolled at ASU?
He’d probably be a front line starter for the Sun Devils and the missing rebounding and defending link ASU needs to be the Pac-10 champion.
Over the holidays, I ran into Ernst, who I know from our late evening and weekend pick-up games in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Tempe High gym and on ASU’s outdoor courts.
I asked why Kamp chose California over ASU?
He said the Sun Devil program was in turmoil about the time Kamp graduated, and current coach Herb Sendeck was hired just one day after Kamp inked a letter of intent with the Bears.
Gary said he believes after Sendeck was on board at ASU he called Kamp, but the young man stuck to his commitment to California.
Now ASU and Payson High have something in common.
Both lost a tremendously talented and gifted athlete who could have paved the way to basketball’s promised land.