Liberty gives Shadow Ridge basketball a benchmark - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Liberty gives Shadow Ridge basketball a benchmark

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Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011 11:09 pm | Updated: 3:59 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Shadow Ridge's varsity basketball team is still in the embryonic stage.

Friday night, the Stallions got a second look at a Liberty program that, while only two years older than Shadow Ridge, is fully formed.

Liberty (12-8, 7-1 Skyline Region) sprinted to a 24-0 lead and showcased its balance, unselfishness and defensive pressure in a 70-31 win at Shadow Ridge (4-15, 0-8).

"This team wants to play for each other," Wood said. "No one cares who gets the credit on this team."

Other than the school's relative youth, they don't have much in common. The rapid growth of Vistancia and the surrounding areas allowed Liberty to build its sports programs with a relatively stable group.

Shadow Ridge is in a state of flux as families move in and out of the surrounding developments. Coach Charlie Sanders said of the 26 players in the program last year, only seven returned. Meanwhile, students continue to move in, such as a basketball player that arrived a few weeks ago from Arkansas.

"We have a lot of kids that don't have any experience playing basketball. Really, they're being rushed to play varsity ball," Shadow Ridge coach Charlie Sanders said. "We're focusing on defense and fundamental skills. We're playing against a lot of programs that are well established and we've got a lot of catching up to do."

In Liberty's first year of varsity play, 2008-09, the Lions were led by six juniors, including a forward who now plays at Texas-San Antonio (Jordan Sims) and a guard athletic enough to win the state high jump and triple jump (Herb Dew).

Shadow Ridge doesn't have anyone that gifted in its first class. The Stallions have four juniors on varsity, and gave significant minutes to freshmen forwards Hector Villegas and Tevita Matu Friday.

"Their time's going to come. Their freshman team's doing very well and there's some young talent," Wood said. "It's difficult during those times because you want success now, but it is a process. I remember going through it, it's a grind."

This year, Wood's program has transitioned from the building phase to maintenance. And, considering the Lions lost two players who combined for 35 points per game and five of their top seven, the changeover has been quite smooth.

Friday, the Lions showed the cohesive play that's allowed them to surprise everyone besides their coach. All nine players scored, and six had at least one assist.

"We knew that we weren't going to be on anyone's radar," Wood said. "I'm proud of them. I'm really proud of their effort."

No Liberty player entered the game averaging double figures, but four scored between 10 and 14 points Friday. Senior forward Josh Sparks (14 points), senior center Blake Kellard (12), junior center Nathan Bannister (11) and junior guard Trevor Arndt (10) led the attack.

Sophomore guard Julian Torres led the Stallions with 11 points. Shadow Ridge has four more region games and two more weeks of practice to continue learning how to play basketball.

"What I want to do is keep them motivated, and for them not to get frustrated," Sanders said. "They understand what they are. These kids come out and work hard in practice every day. That's all you can ask for at this point."

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