Mesa boys basketball coach Shane Burcar grew up in Michigan, where Ohio State is a dirty word, so he knows a little something about rivalries.
And at his school, Mountain View is the equivalent of the Buckeyes.
“That’s the game everybody looks forward to,” Burcar said. “The crowds are great. There’s no love lost. When the schedules come out, it’s like ‘When do we play Mountain View?’ It’s a great time for both schools.”
The Mesa district had a down year for football, but boys hoops is here to cushion the blow.
The Jackrabbits enter the season with the No. 1 ranking in the Tribune’s preseason top 5, with Mountain View right behind them at No. 2. Mesa was the No. 1 seed in last year’s postseason but got knocked out in the second round, while the Toros made it to the semifinals.
“It’s good to have the Mesa schools prominent,” Mountain View coach Gary Ernst said. “There’s a lot of pride.”
Mesa has the state’s top senior prospect in point guard Jahii Carson, who has committed to Arizona State. He is flanked by wings Desmond Medder and Charles Croxen.
The Jackrabbits have to replace three starters and several important reserves from last season, so there may be an adjustment period early on. But Burcar said the team has plenty of potential.
“I don’t know about our record, but by the end of the year we could be better than we were last season,” Burcar said.
Mountain View’s biggest loss will be Asaad Woods, who was the team’s leading scorer last year. Camyn Boone and Jaren Sweeney will pick up the slack, and Ernst is counting on Mark Mazzucco and Kyle Bingham to contribute as well.
Boone fractured his skull in early October and will miss the first part of the season, but should return soon.
Mesa and Mountain View will face off on Jan. 17 in the marquee night game of the MLK Basketball Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
Last year, Sweeney had a shot blocked at the buzzer by Mesa’s Blondy Baruti as the Jackrabbits escaped with a two-point win in overtime. Even 10 months later, Ernst laments the the missed opportunity.
“It’s neat to play at ASU,” Ernst said. “It was just disappointing because we let a game slip away that we should have had.”
Prominent players like Carsin, Boone, Sweeney and Croxen will be back for another matchup. As for the new players to the varsity rivalry, they get up to speed quickly.
“A fair amount of (the players) know about it already, but even if they don’t, it’s Mesa-Mountain View,” Burcar said. “You get it figured out.”