Dave Stark knew he had to be patient. First he had to wait for half of his Tempe Marcos de Niza boys basketball team to switch from the football field to the basketball court.
Then he had to integrate the players while his team endured loss after painfully close loss.
“It’s tough bringing all those guys in and getting them on the same page,” the Padres coach said.
That’s why Marcos de Niza was 10-15 heading into its season finale against Mesa Desert Ridge, which it won.
But Stark never worried about missing the state tournament, and knew the potential these Padres had once they got there.
Marcos won a game to advance to the region final before losing to Phoenix Pinnacle, the eventual No. 2 seed in the 5A Division II playoffs.
The Padres didn’t stop there, beating favored region foes Scottsdale Horizon and Desert Ridge on the road in the first two rounds of the state tournament to advance to today’s 5A-II semifinal game against No. 1 Phoenix North at Jobing.com Arena.
Marcos de Niza started the year 0-5 against Horizon and Desert Ridge, but won the last four meetings.
So while the seeding next to the Padres might say No. 13, Stark always knew his team’s true ability.
His players? They might be the most confident 14-16 team in the country.
“There has been no lack of swagger or confidence the entire season,” Stark said before laughing. “They’re a confident group, probably to the point of driving me crazy.”
The Padres’ biggest problem early on was a lack of outside shooting.
The Padres are quick and athletic, but when teams switched into a zone and forced them to take jumpers, they struggled.
Every time Harrison Evens drove the lane, a cast of bodies would converge, forcing him to kick out to an open shooter.
Lately, those open shots have been falling.
And since teams must now account for the long-range game, the Padres are able play to their natural strength — getting to the hoop.
“We’re not going to veer from our strengths,” Stark said, including tonight’s game with the Mustangs.
On the defensive end tonight, Marcos de Niza will attempt to slow North’s Daniel Bejarano, only a sophomore, but already one of the state’s best players.
On offense, Stark knows he will see a zone defense.
This will be the first matchup between these teams, but four days of preparation means no stone is left unturned.
“We know (the zone) is coming, both teams know everything,” Stark said. “It’s a matter of stepping on the floor and executing.”