CHEYENNE – Underneath the high school jerseys donned by a fivesome of best friends lies the roots of a brotherhood forged through childhood.
Erik Oliver, Tanner Muchmore, Blaine Lyman, Tanner Weinberger and Kaleb Phillips – a handful of some of the best talent in the state for the last few years – go way back to sixth grade, when first played for Wyoming Flight 2019, an AAU traveling club.
The foundation of stardom each one of them has achieved during their prep careers was cemented through the years of playing competitively with their club team.
“We started off and we were so young, and we had no clue what it was going to amount to,” said Muchmore, who became a three-year varsity starter for the Thunderbirds.
Success. Lots of it.
They traveled the country, competed in Las Vegas and got to play against some the nation’s best athletes.
During a 31/2 year stretch, they compiled a record of 124-21. During that span, they won 24 tournament titles and earned the No. 50 ranking by West Coast Elite and the No. 5 ranking in Colorado by West Coast Elite.
“It was so fun,” said Lyman, who started for the Indians this past season. “Especially because Cheyenne, Wyoming, is not a big well-known basketball place and
we were down in Colorado and everybody knew us.”
“Playing with all those guys, they’re all talented,” Lyman said. “It (was) an amazing experience.”
The older they got, the more experience and continued success they had. When high school approached, they knew things would change. No longer would they be on the same team; they’d be competing against one another.
“It’s fun because you don’t understand how good Erik is until you play (him),” said Weinberger, who started for Central this year after starting for South during the 2017-18 campaign. “You know he’s good, but then you’re guarding him and trying your ass off and he’s still making (shots). It’s just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s interesting.”
So, whenever Weinberger shared the court with his buddy Oliver, there were never any surprises?
“No, I’ve watched that guy make game-winners, score 40 points in a game,” Weinberger added. “He’s the real deal.”
Perhaps the toughest adjustment when playing against each other was communication. Back when they were a part of Wyoming Flight, they signaled plays, schemes and positioning with one another. They soon learned they couldn’t do that in high school.
“I remember last year when we were playing East, I looked down the court and I yelled, ‘Bubba!’ because Tanner Muchmore was open,” said Phillips, who started for South each of the last two seasons, “but he just wasn’t on my team, and traveled because of it because I noticed at the last second he wasn’t on my team anymore, and I had to just take a travel instead of throwing the ball away.
“(I) just laughed it off.”
Wearing different uniforms on game day also forced the group to set their friendship aside for a couple of hours.
“It’s weird because we’re all pretty close, we’re all best friends, and then just flipping the switch where they’re your enemies for 32 minutes, then you’re friends again,” Muchmore added.
The more they played together or against one another, the tighter their bond became.
“That Flight team really made us brothers,” said Oliver, a four-year starter for East and who was named Wyoming Gatorade player of the year Friday. “We started playing against each other in junior high and high school, but we never let it separate us from us being brothers. We just won so much together, we lost together. We went through so much and it brought us so close together.”
As they continued to improve and grow their games, they started to emerge as standouts for their respective high schools. Together, they amassed a record of 181-123 – a 59.5 winning percentage – during their high school careers. They also went on to claim a bundle of postseason accolades.
Their prep careers came to a close after the 4A state tournament, but the memories – becoming friends for the first time, sharing laughs, jokes and having fun – will always be remembered.
“I never thought we’d ever get to this point,” Oliver said. “We (were) so young, just a bunch of little kids having fun, winning games.”
Their days of playing basketball together or against each other might be over, but the connection they share will never break.
“You never think about it when you’re that young,” Phillips said. “Like all the hours that you put in at the gym and the countless practices and how it’s going to pay off. But eventually it paid off for all of us.”
Before they head off to college, they plan to suit up one more time. Not in a gym, though.
“We’re all going to band up and play softball this summer,” Muchmore said.
The brotherhood lives on.