What happens when a nice Jewish boy from Westchester meets up with a Mormon basketball team?
By Sarah Varney
What happens when a nice Jewish boy from Westchester meets up with a Mormon basketball team? A documentary that tells the story of an obscure team from an obscure Utah school district that plays their way to the national high school championship — and wins! “Lone Peak,” a 13-minute documentary produced by Rye High School freshman Zack Samberg has been getting a fair amount of playtime for a first effort.
When Lone Peak began its rise from obscurity, they were an underdog’s underdog. Then the team came out of nowhere to beat Archbishop Mitty, a national powerhouse out of San Jose, California. (Kentucky Final Four star Aaron Scott is a Mitty alum.) That’s where Zach Samberg entered the picture.
Samberg came upon the Lone Peak team at the Springfield College Hoophall Classic last April. He was intrigued after he saw Lone Peak crush Archbiship Mitty by 40 points. “I went down to the locker room and no one was talking to Lone Peak. They were all interviewing Aaron Scott, even though Mitty had lost,” said Zack, who was working as an intern reporter for his dad’s company, 5 Star Basketball, at the time.
The endeavor started with an email to the coach and rolled on from there. He got access to the players’ families through the coach, but then had to cold call the parents to get their permission to film their children. After that, there were interviews, travel arrangements, royalty arrangements for the music used in the film, and a zillion other details. At one point, Zach wondered if the players’ NCAA eligibility might be at risk if they appeared in a commercial film, so he tracked down someone in the compliance department at the NCAA. Fortunately, the answer was “no problem.”
He first met his co-director, Ben Altarescu, in person at the airport when the two flew out to Utah to film the players and the coach. The teenager and the NYU Film School graduate have become close over the course of the project and plan to work together again.
Three of the young men on the Lone Peak championship team had played together since third grade and they all committed to play for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Samberg’s film ended up focused mostly on three star players: Eric Mika, T.J. Haws, and Nick Emery. Each one is currently juggling the requirements of his religion with the pursuit of basketball. Mika spent one year at BYU and will begin training for his mission in Rome in May. Haws, a senior at Lone Peak High School, will begin his training in May for his mission in Lyons, France. Emery, who started his mission right out of high school, is now finishing up his first year in Germany.
Basketball is on hold for now. While on their missions, the young men are paired with a “companion,” who they must remain with at all times. With just a half-hour for exercise each day, if your companion happens to be allergic to exercise, you’re out of luck.
Day-to-day life for missionaries, who were once basketball stars, is the next subject that Samberg and Altarescu plan to film. They’re waiting for permission from the Mormon Church.
In the meantime, Zach Samberg is busy with junior varsity lacrosse and basketball at Rye High.