Mesa Mountain View coach Gary Ernst has to be enjoying his situation.
Then again, you could be Gilbert Mesquite coach Tom Saltzstein. Saltzstein lost 13 seniors to graduation and two possible returnees decided not to play. Talk about running on empty.
At any rate, the 2006-07 basketball season dawns today. It won’t be a cakewalk for Mountain View, although they are the clear favorite. Phoenix Desert Vista, which gave the Toros fits in the semifinals last year, wants a rematch. Mountain View rivals Dobson and Mesa want to take a crack at the Toros a couple times each in region play. And Phoenix St. Mary’s standout Jerryd Bayless would like to take a state title to Arizona in the last of his four varsity seasons with the Knights.
In 5A Division II, Paradise Valley believes it can get an extra game this season and play March 1 for its title. The Trojans have 80 percent of their starting lineup returning.
East Valley teams will be right in the thick of things in 4A, with Phoenix Pinnacle, Scottsdale Chaparral and Tempe McClintock all fielding dangerous teams in 4A-I. In 4A-II, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows won’t have a full team until after football is over, but the Falcons will be strong, along with Scottsdale Notre Dame.
Fountain Hills rebuilds with a new coach after back-to-back 3A championships, and defending champion Chandler Valley Christian is the favorite in 2A.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jerryd Bayless: St. Mary’s doit-all senior guard hopes to help his Knights swan song sing with a state title. Signed with Arizona earlier this month.
Kendall Wallace: Leading scorer for Mountain View last season (17 ppg). His play at point guard solidified team’s run to a second straight state title.
Mickey McConnell: Senior guard makes Dobson go as his 21 points per game and seven assists an outing attest. Signed with New Mexico earlier this month.
Taylor Rohde: The 6-7 Pinnacle junior averaged 21 points per game as a sophomore, and will form one of the best duos in 4A alongside sophomore point guard Nuno Muandumba.
Harper Kamp: Silky smooth Mountain View center is the most polished post player in the state. Headed to Cal next season.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nick Markovich, Basha, 6-3, G, So.; Tyler Miller, Basha, 6-6, W, So.; Nick Rivers, Brophy, 5-10, G, Sr.; Justin Johnson, Brophy, 6-6, F, Sr.; Dominique Keeton, Casa Grande, 6-1, F, Jr.; Anson Schenk, Casa Grande, 6-3, F, Jr.; Brad Carroll, Corona del Sol, 6-5, G, Sr.; Phil Feinberg, Corona del Sol, 6-5, F, Sr.; Ty Abbott, Desert Vista, 6-3, G, Sr.; Garrett Lever, Desert Vista, 6-0, G, Sr.; Bryant St. Cyr, Desert Vista, 5-8, G, Sr.; Alex Miller, Horizon, 6-4, F, Sr.; Trevor Lightfoot, Horizon, 5-11, G, Sr.; Kelly Bardet, Desert Mountain, 5-10, G, Sr.; Waylen Towns, Marcos de Niza, 5-10, G, Sr.; Marcus Atkins, Marcos de Niza, 6-1, F, Sr.; Nick Ghiz, Marcos de Niza, 6-3, G, Sr.; Alex English, Paradise Valley, 6-10, F, Sr.; Chris Bonham, Paradise Valley, 6-9, C, Sr.; Matt Skelly, St. Mary’s, 6-5, G, Jr.; Byron Fulton, St. Mary’s, 6-7, F, So.; Demetrius Crowell, Mesa, 6-6, F, Sr.; Benzel Jackson, 6-5, Mesa, F, Sr.; Deonte Roberts, Red Mountain, 6-3, F, Jr.; Maurice Jackson, Gilbert, 6-3, G, Sr.; Marc Celaya, Hamilton, 6-2, G, Sr.; Justin Wesolowski, Mtn. View, 6-6, F, Sr.; Brendon Lavender, Mtn. View, 6-3, G, Jr.
Justin Higuera, Apache Junction, 6-2, F, Sr.; Phillip Aholt, Cactus Shadows, 6-1, G, Sr.; Kyle Watkins, Cactus Shadows, 6-4, F, Sr.; Mike Cummings, Chaparral, 6-2, F, Jr.; Jesse Wheeler, Coolidge, 5-10, G, Sr.; Damar White, Coolidge, 6-1, F, Sr.; Alex Bunk, Fountain Hills, 6-4, F, Sr.; Pat Keating, 6-0, G, Sr.; Kyle Pedersen, Fountain Hills, 6-6, C, So.; Dusty Howard, Higley, 6-0, G, Sr.; Jon Davis, Horizon Honors, 6-3, F, Sr.; Joe Sanchez, Maricopa, 6-2, G, Jr.; Darrin Cobb, McClintock, 5-6, G, Sr.; Brandon Bailey, McClintock, 6-3, F, Sr.; Tom Fow, Notre Dame, 6-5, G, Sr.; Matt Coakley, Notre Dame, 5-10, G, Sr.; Matt Rhodes, Saguaro, 6-4, F, Jr.; Dominick Ruth, Saguaro, 5-9, G, Jr.; Nick Witherill, Saguaro, 6-2, G, Sr.; Derreck DeBenedetto, Scottsdale Christian, 6-2, F, Sr.; Beau Barnes, Scottsdale Christian, 6-2, G/F, So.; Michael Barlow, Seton Catholic, 6-4, F, Sr.; Martin Graham, Seton Catholic, 6-1, G, Sr.; Nate Van Weelden, Valley Christian, 6-1, G, Jr.; Shane Johannsen, Valley Christian, 6-6, C, Sr.
Nov. 21-25: Paradise Valley Invitational features a 12-team field with possibly five of the top 15 teams in 5A, mostly 5A-II ranked squads.
Nov. 30: St. Mary’s and Jerryd Bayless visit Mountain View for an early top-five showdown with the Toros.
Nov. 30-Dec. 2: Some of the best small schools in the Valley as well as 2A power Thatcher take part in the Valley Christian Invitational.
Dec. 27-30: McClintock Holiday Shootout brings fans four days of morning-to-late-night vacation hoops.
Jan. 15: Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Classic at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena and Arizona’s McKale Center. Three boys games are featured at ASU, with Valley Christian and Scottsdale Christian battling at 3:15 p.m., followed by Mountain View-Desert Vista at 4:45 p.m. and St. Mary’s-Brophy at 6:30 p.m. Tucson schools hook up with a slate of games as well.
Feb. 13-Feb. 24: State tournaments are contested in 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A-I and 4A-II.
Feb. 21-March 1: 5A-I and 5A-II state tournament play at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
5A DIVISION I
PRESEASON TOP 5
- 1. Mountain View: Talented Toros have ingredients to capture the first 5A three-peat in nearly 50 years.
2. Desert Vista: Thunder return plenty of firepower from team that gave Toros all they wanted last season.
3. St. Mary’s: With Bayless on the floor for a final season, Knights will be a factor particularly if the young starters from last season mature.
4. Mesa: Ravaged by injuries last season, the Jackrabbits are a contender if they stay away from the maladies and get a chance to use their depth.
5. Dobson: The Mustangs have a good inside-outside game with guard Mickey McConnell and center Kramer Knutson that should propel them deep in the playoffs.
5A DIVISION II
PRESEASON TOP 5
- 1. Paradise Valley: Lost their best player to graduation, but with essentially four returning starters back the 2005-06 semifinalists have ability to win the title.
2. Deer Valley: Significant front-line graduation losses, but this program finds a way to be in the mix every season.
3. Sandra Day O’Connor: A very good shooting team that returns nucleus of last year’s squad.
4. Centennial: Four key players return for a team that figures to be No. 1 or 2 in the Desert West this season.
5. Desert Mountain: Second season for coach Todd Fazio could prove to be a surprising and uplifting one, especially competing with St. Mary’s, Paradise Valley, Brophy and Horizon in the Desert Valley.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 3 Tough games Mountain View faces the week of Jan. 15-19 in its bid for a 5A three-peat. The Toros face Desert Vista, Mesa and Dobson during that week to fully return to the swing of things after the holiday break.
12 East Valley schools that qualified for the 5A-I state tournament last season, ending in an all-East Valley final four.
1 East Valley schools that advanced to the 5A-II final four last season (Paradise Valley).
5 Straight 2A state championships that have been won by Valley Christian (3) or Scottsdale Christian (2).
4A DIVISION I PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Apollo: Graduation losses are many for the Hawks, but they are the two-time defending state champion.
2. Pinnacle: A consensus pick among Desert Sky coaches for being the team to beat.
3. Thunderbird: Led by Arizona-bound Zane Johnson and guard Pete Rodriguez, it’s no wonder the Desert Sky could be the toughest region in the state.
4. Saguaro: Nick Witherill leads four starters back from a year ago (all are juniors), and the Sabercats figure to be a more athletic team than 2005.
5. McClintock: Darrin Cobb is among the best guards in the region, and coach Brian Fleming expects a solid, deep squad this year.
4A DIVISION II PRESEASON TOP 5
1. Cactus Shadows: With the success of the football team, winning has just become second nature for the Falcons. They’ll just have to hold the fort until football stars Philip Aholt and Kyle Watkins finish up on the gridiron.
2. Notre Dame: Tom Fow is one of the most explosive scorers in the conference, and the Saints learned what it takes in the playoffs during a semifinal run a year ago.
3. Sunnyslope: The Vikings will go with a balanced attack to offset the loss of T.J. Campbell (21 points per game).
4. Page: Another Cinderella run to the state championship game as an 11th seed will be tough to repeat given the loss of a half-dozen seniors, but most of its backcourt returns.
5. Apache Junction: Star big man Cody Anderson has departed, but the Prospectors return all but three players from last year’s 22-3 team.
5A coaches debut: New mentors in 5A are Paul Wilson at Westwood, who came to the Warriors from California; Tony Fuller, who left the college ranks to lead Brophy; Shane Burcar, who shifts from Westwood to Mesa, where he was an assistant on the 2004 state title team.
Taking over: Ernie Pintor (Seton Catholic) and Stephen Tooker (Fountain Hills) begin their first year as head coaches at two of the best 3A teams in the state. Tooker’s program has won back-to-back state championships.