Week in Hoops Heats Up Anticipation

by Justin Vargas | Posted on Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

This past week was the first time all year where I have had a quality local High School game to cover and write-up every day of the week. It was, quite honestly, the best week of high school basketball I have seen thus far that did not include Hoop Hall West. So I would be complete remiss to not allow everybody in on my week in the gym and my output on it.

The highlight of the week was the marquee 4A match-up between Shadow Mountain and Buckeye. The #2 ranked Buckeye Hawks traveled to the Mountain to take on the juggernaut that is the Matadors. The first half of that game was possibly the best half of basketball you will see all year. Not just the product on the court, but the intensity of the game and the fans. How engaged everybody was into the game. If you looked throughout the stands, there were not many people even taking glances at their phones because they didn’t want to miss one bit of action. There were blocked shots being sent off the backboards, dunks, hard drives to the rack, hard fouls and some good trash-talk.

Head Coach Mike Bibby and Buckeye’s Head Coach Randy Bland met at half-court early in the game to both have their fair chewing of the referees. Buckeye’s 6-foot senior guard Elias Anderson, who was battling a head cold and had trouble breathing before and during the game, was red-hot from deep in the first half. Jaelen House played like a man possessed. Shadow Mountain lack of interior length got somewhat exposed with Buckeye’s 6-foot-5 junior wing Otis Frazier spending most of the first half using his length to disrupt the paint and tying up the explosive, yet shorter frontcourt. However, Shadow has something that no other team in this country has, a national pedigree that makes you battle tested! When one thing, doesn’t work, they figure out and play to their strengths. And there might not be another team in America that can run like this Matador team. That was apparent as they created turnover after turnover from the Buckeye team that is usually the best ball-handling team on the floor.

In typical Jaelen House fashion, with the game tied and only seconds remaining, the ASU-commit hit Buckeye’s super-sophomore guard with a Damian Lillard-esque step-back 3-pointer to ensure Shadow went back into the locker room with a narrow 3-point lead.

Though they are two of my favorite players in the State, Shadow Mountain’s Jovan Blacksher and Buckeye’s Otis Frazier, two of the most talented players Arizona has, did not play well on the offensive end. Both struggled from the field and to find their flow in the offense. However, both players affected the game on the defensive end. Blacksher is, unquestionably, the best on-ball defensive guard in the State, and one of the elite one’s on the West Coast. Frazier, who is long and athletic as they come, made several defensive plays that had Buckeye in it early.

Two of the best sophomore’s in Arizona were also on display in this game in 6-foot-4 wing Shemar Morrow and 6-foot-1 point guard Tay Boothman. Both players showed up and did their thing. Morrow played strong as he usually does, cleaning up inside and using his athleticism and explosiveness to make his mark on the game. Boothman showed off his range and sharp-shooting in that first half and barked back at a team most players are intimidated by. Boothman has something a little extra than just what you see on the court, the kid has heart and moxie.

At halftime, I received several text messages from “basketball heads” and parents stating something to the effect of “we need more basketball in Arizona like this.” And I could not agree more. It was an environment and a buzz that you normally don’t get out of a Arizona High School game.

Shadow Mountain would come out of the 2nd half, and as many know, turned it up a notch and ended up stretching the lead out to double digits. They were the better team in the 2nd half, no doubt. Their national appeal and their Championship pedigree shined out in typical Matador fashion. But it was, if both teams take care of business, a great preview into what we may see in the 4A State Championship. There is little doubt Shadow Mountain will be there, and are the overwhelming favorites to win it all by double digits. But if Buckeye can match the effort they have put forth off season, it could very well be these two at the end on a neutral court. And though it is the 4A-Division, it might be the most anticipated match-up of any Championship game.

Thank you to both teams and coaching staffs for that game. It was great to be apart of it.
The other games I’ve got to see during the week gave me an opportunity to see some of the State’s top talent for the first time.

On Monday night, I watched a very deep and talented Peoria team take on Moon Valley, led by 6-foot-7 senior forward Jok Jok. Jok is an absolute dunk-and-block machine. He is one of the few players in the state that could very possibly record a triple-double with blocked shots being one of the stats he records it in. His upside is just unreal as he led Moon Valley to a 57-54 overtime win in one of the better competitive contests of the season.

I will be on hand to see Moon Valley host Seton Catholic tomorrow night. Both teams are undefeated in their sections and are looking to sharpen up their systems before the 4A playoffs.

On Tuesday night I got my first chance to see both Hamilton (18-7) and Brophy (23-1) play, two of the top teams in the 6A-Division. Brophy’s 6-foot-4 dead-eyed shooter Ian Burke was spot on in the contest, as Hamilton’s 6-foot-4 guard Rashad Smith solidified everything I have heard about him. Explosive, tough and aggressive. He has some real tools in that shed of his. But Brophy would earn the 10-point road win to remain the top-ranked team in the state.

To end the week, Brophy would take down Nico Mannion and Pinnacle on the road on a game-winner by Central Arkansas commit Jaxson Baker. Though Mannion would have one of the more impressive performances of the season with 33 points and 23 of them in the 4th quarter, Brophy would prevail with typical team-ball fashion.

On Wednesday I would attend a tightly-played contest between Arcadia (18-8) and Paradise Valley (18-6) at PV. Arcadia would snap a 10-game winning PV winning streak with a 53-49 win on the road to avenge a loss at home to the Trojans. In that game, the best player was on the losing side. Paradise Valley’s 6-foot senior point guard Tashon Brown really does have some boogie to his game. Nice handle, beautiful hesitation moves and a fair amount of athleticism that allows him to use his craftiness and finish at the rim.

While that epic game was going on at Pinnacle and we had our camera’s rolling, I attended the Millennium (12-12) game at Westview (16-9). As exciting as that game was, I wasn’t cheated by attending the game in the West Valley, as Westview would hand Head Coach Ty Amundsen and his young Millennium team their first conference loss, with an overtime win that had countless lead changes.

Millennium has something real brewing over there in Goodyear. Their core players include a bunch of underclassmen that are far ahead of schedule with their run as of late. 5-foot-10 freshman point guard Justus Jackson, who has the makings of being a lights out shooting point guard that can create for others, has looked very impressive in the second half of the season. But may be no other freshman in the state has come as far as 6-foot-9 freshman big man DaRon Holmes. He is really starting to get his footing in this high school game and could be absolutely big time for the next couple years. Millennium’s 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Isaiah Floyd is a player. He can shoot it, penetrate and finish by the rim. A nice handle that is more of a combo guard, he is going to be a factor on a team that should be one of top teams in the state earlier rather than later.

That game also marked the first time I got to see Westview’s 6-foot-4 junior guard D’Maurian Williams. He did not disappoint. On a night where he battled leg cramps, he still finished with a game-high 21 points in a game that had a good defensive feel to it. Williams has some weapons in his arsenal. A good perimeter defender that plays hard and is very competitive. While he is not as springy as some top guys in the state, he is athletic and can finish above the rim. He has the ability to penetrate off of either hand and is equally effective with both hands and his mid-range jumper is cash-money. He did not shoot it all that well from deep in this contest, but you can see the shot is there even on an off night.

All-in-all, it was a great week in basketball leading into each conference’s playoff. So it should only get better from here, as all the State’s top teams look to go to war and make their own championship runs. Should be a fun February.

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