5A boys basketball preview: Inexperienced Mesa favorite - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

5A boys basketball preview: Inexperienced Mesa favorite

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Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 7:31 pm | Updated: 3:34 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

At the end of a practice earlier this week, Mesa boys basketball coach Shane Burcar told his team not to buy into the hype. So if you happen to play for the Jackrabbits, stop reading this article.

Mesa is the top seed and the favorite to win this year's 5A-I title, despite the lack of state tournament experience for the majority of its roster.

The Jackrabbits, led by point guard Jahii Carson and forward Blondy Baruti, have knocked off top contenders Mountan View and Phoenix North in the regular season and finished the year 24-4 with just one loss against 5A-I competition.

Burcar said the school is buzzing in anticipation of a deep tournament run, but he doesn't want his team to look past even No. 16 seed Desert Ridge, who the Jackrabbits played in their season opener and beat by 28.

"Worry about what we can control," Burcar said. "That's all we can talk about. It's fun to look into the brackets, see who you might play, but we can't fall into that trap. I'm a sports junkie so I know it's fun, but we can have all the hype and all that stuff after we take care of business."

There is a cautionary tale from two seasons ago.

In 2008, Highland was the No. 1 seed in 5A-I. Like Mesa, many of its top players were low in state tournament experience.

The Hawks were bounced from the postseason in the first round by Chandler.

"We've put ourselves in the position to be prepared for the tournament," Burcar said. "We wanted to play the best teams we could play. I don't think (inexperience) will be a factor. I hope it's not a factor. If it is, we're in trouble."

Burcar believes the rigors of this year's schedule have made the Jackrabbits battle-tested.

Mesa hasn't shied away from any top Arizona team and played in an elite national tournament in San Diego over winter break.

Carson, who already has set the school's single-season scoring record and is closing in on the assists mark, relishes playing the best.

"I like to play the highest competition, and when they're at full strength," Carson said. "I don't want to play the best teams when their players are hurt, because then there's an excuse. I want to beat the best teams with all their best players."

It won't be an easy road to the title. If the Jackrabbits win their first-round game, they would play defending champion St. Mary's or region foe Hamilton in the quarterfinals. A rematch with defending 5A-II champion North could happen in the semifinals. The Jackrabbits beat the Mustangs on a last-second layup in overtime by Carson in early December. Mountain View, Cesar Chavez and Basha, among others, could be the title game foe.

Mesa is short on experience because it was ruled ineligible for the postseason last year after a recruiting violation involving Baruti.

The 6-foot-9 forward moved to Chicago this offseason and planned on attending a prep school, but instead he returned to play his senior season at Mesa in hopes of leading the team to a title.

"It would really mean a lot to me," Baruti said.

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]