The last two seasons in which Mountain View has won 5A boys basketball titles, sophomores have played beyond their years to impact the championship games.
In 1999, 6-foot-8 Dennis Latimore was a Goliath on the defensive side in the Toros’ triumph over Tucson Salpointe. Last season, Tribune player of the year and starting center Harper Kamp tallied 14 points in the title clincher over St. Mary’s to cap a brilliant season.
Another sophomore — guard and sixth man Kendall Wallace — tallied 18 points in that victory.
Everyone who followed Arizona prep basketball in 2004-05 knew of Harper Kamp. But Wallace? Like most players who do their work in reserve, they often go unheralded.
That’s changed this year. The 6-foot-3 1 /2 Wallace’s fingerprints are all over the Toros’ plan for success and a possible repeat. Heading into the title game against top-seeded Corona del Sol Wednesday night at Glendale Arena, he is averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists per contest. Those numbers are the result of a number of adjustments at different times during the season by coach Gary Ernst. To wit:
Wallace, who grew up in Illinois and is from a basketballobsessed family, opened the season as a starter, up from his sixth-man role of a year ago, at shooting guard. With Kamp sidelined in the early going with a broken foot, Ernst determined after a handful of games that Wallace’s speed was better suited to handle an opponent’s pressure at the point. Ernst had Wallace switch with senior Ryan Seymour.
During a six-to-seven-week stretch to begin the season, Wallace and another hero of last year’s championship game, senior forward Stephen Rogers, shouldered the bulk of the scoring. Wallace was scoring 18 to 19 points a game the first six weeks, and Rogers nearly 15.
With Kamp gradually building up minutes and returning to form in December and early January, Ernst sought more tweaking when region play began in mid-January.
“With Harper healthy and in the middle he’s someone we need to get the ball to often,” Ernst said. ‘‘Kendall started adapting then. Slowly at first. He’d have some games where he’d score just seven or eight points. There are still times he’ll score a lot, and we need him to score. We felt we needed him to distribute more. He’s sacrificed some points because of it. We’ve pretty much asked him to do it all at times.’’
Wallace, whose grandfather, father, mother, and a great uncle, to name a few, have coached and or played the game at a high level, has tried his best to meet Ernst’s demands.
‘‘I’ve always played guard and I like to push the ball,’’ said Wallace, who moved to Mesa with his family when he was in eighth grade. ‘‘It hasn’t been much of a problem making the adjustments. I’ve made some mistakes, but I think for the most part we’ve played good basketball, especially since the McClintock Tournament (December).’’
In five playoff games, Wallace has endured his share of memorable moments — good and bad. The worst moment came in last year’s overtime semifinal against Glendale Deer Valley. Wallace sprained his left ankle in the overtime period. Ernst termed it a minor miracle that Wallace was able to play in the championship game, especially seeing how bad the ankle looked when the team left Glendale Arena.
‘‘My ankle swelled up pretty bad,’’ Wallace recalled. ‘‘I iced it four or five times that night. Then iced it a couple more times the morning of the game. Before the (championship) game it hurt some. But once the game started and the adrenaline kicked in it was OK. I had to gut it out.’’
Wallace certainly won’t forget the 18-point performance that followed the ankle injury. Another moment, still fresh in his mind, is last Wednesday’s controversial ending to the Toros’ 57-51 victory over Desert Vista. Wallace made four free throws (two from a foul call and two more from a technical foul) in the final 2.4 seconds that were most of the difference in the final score.
“That was a crazy ending,” Wallace said. “The playoffs have been exciting both years.”