It still hurts. Losing in the fashion the Tempe High boy’s basketball team did in the Division II semifinals last week will never be forgotten.
Except, perhaps, unless they win a state title in 2014-2015.
Even after watching the tape and conversing with some members of the AIA wasn’t going to reverse the outcome or first-year coach Tom Saltzstein’s mind about whether 0.8 seconds was enough to do what Flagstaff did in converting a length-of-the-court pass led to Flagstaff’s Trevor Johnson hitting the winning shot that ended the Buffaloes’ season, 64-62 last Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.
It was not a happy 49th birthday for the coach. But it also won’t change his mind that blaming a clock operator, officiating or anyone else not in uniform or on the bench only works to a point.
“It never goes to overtime or (potentially) double overtime if we make free throws and a few layups,” he said.
The night before, Tempe trailed in the final minute of regulation and overtime against Arcadia but came back each time to reach the semifinals.
The wound was fresh. A team dinner after the heartbreak, and another evening of pizza at Saltzstein’s house has helped the recovery process.
So, too, will having seven players returning next year after a 28-3 season under Saltzstein, the former Mesquite coach who was hired when Paul Long left Tempe after last season for family reasons.
The free-wheeling, controlled-chaos style worked more often than not. Juniors Delano Jones, Kalun White, Jashawn Brown and Emanuel Gant joined seniors James Carrethers, A.D. Hart, Oscar Lopez and Anthony Ramirez broke all kinds of school records for a season’s success.
“I really don’t want to take anything away from the kids and what they accomplished but the ultimate goal was to play Saturday (in the championship game),” Saltzstein said. “It was a very, very enjoyable and exciting. We learned a lot and some things to make it better. It was fun. I can’t complain. It’s a great place to be with administration and staff and kids.”
With a core group of Buffaloes expected to return next year, along with most of Flagstaff’s roster, a sequel next spring is in the works.
“Let’s hope we get that far again,” Saltzstein said. “That’d be nice.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.