Tanner Toolson recalls the first time he met Mark Pope. He was 13 years old and went to visit his older brother, Connor, who at the time was playing for Utah Valley, where Pope was the head coach.
Tanner went to a practice, and there he met the coaching staff.
“They were jokingly saying ‘we’re going to have to start recruiting you,'” Toolson said. “That was five years ago. My parents and I laugh about it now.”
Years later, Toolson has come full circle. Pope, who just wrapped up his first season as the head coach at BYU, was in the stands the night Toolson hit a contested 3-point dagger to take league foe Skyview to overtime. And on Thursday evening, the Union standout and the Washington state coaches association’s “Mr. Basketball” announced his commitment to BYU live on Instagram in an exclusive interview with Scorebook Live.
He’ll serve his LDS mission for two years and plans to be a freshman at BYU in the 2022-23 season.
Toolson’s high school career began as a 5-foot-6 freshman and ended with the 6-foot-5 guard/wing leading Union High School to a program-best 27-1 record, undefeated regular season and third place finish at the WIAA 4A state tournament.
Toolson set program records at Union for points per game (23), total points in a season (645), made field goals (216) and made free throws (139).
He grew nearly a foot throughout his high school career. That’s partially why he’s considered a late bloomer. But by his junior year, he was slashing, dunking and was a bona fide second option and a first team all-4A Greater St. Helens League selection.
But even into the summer between his junior and senior year, Toolson was still putting it together. He blended in on a Washington Supreme club team loaded with several Division I players. Once his senior high school season came around, he separated himself.
Though they were late to offer, Utah State was at many points of the process pursuing him the hardest. Toolson said at one point, he was even ready to commit to the Aggies.
But BYU emerged and offered him in mid-April. After that, calls from the coaching staff came almost daily. On Tuesday morning, Toolson and his family had a Zoom meeting with the BYU staff.
“After the call was over, I knew,” Toolson said. “I was leaning toward them up to the call.”
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Calling the Utah State staff, Toolson said, were the “two hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make.”
In the end, Toolson’s family bled Cougar blue and white.
His father, Andy Toolson, was a 6-foot-6 shooting guard at BYU in the late 1980s who went on to play 11 years professionally, including two separate seasons in the NBA with the Utah Jazz in 1990-91 and 1995-96. When his playing career finished, Andy Toolson returned to BYU as an assistant coach from 2001-05.
His sister, Taryn Lewis, was a swimmer at BYU. She met her husband there. His cousin Jake Toolson played basketball at BYU, too.
Tanner Toolson becomes Union’s second-ever Division I men’s basketball player. Jordan Chatman, WIBCA’s Mr. Basketball in 2012, was the first. He played for BYU for a year before transferring to Boston College.
In his 11 years, Union coach Blake Conley has never coached a D-I player before Toolson.
“The kid worked so hard, he’s so mentally tough,” Conley said. “Team success was always No. 1 for him. It was always about his teammates, the program and winning. When everything comes together, it was really cool to see that. He’s still the same kid he was as a 5-11 sophomore who couldn’t guard anyone.”
Tanner Toolson’s senior highlights