The season has started for the Salt River High School Varsity Eagles boys basketball team, and it has been a tough beginning, with almost twice as many losses as wins. This season the team has many new players, and a lot of the kids are new to playing organized basketball. Early on, the boys didn’t know what to expect; however, they worked hard and have learned a lot from their mistakes.
At times they have come together and played brilliantly, while at other times their youth and inexperienced still show.
“The Eagles are four wins and seven losses right now,” said Head Coach Ernest Shand. “We got off to a rocky start.” Another difficulty, Shand explained, is that once football season ends, there are only a couple of weeks until basketball begins. “For some reason all the players sort of go on vacation in their minds, even though they carry over from football to basketball.”
It takes a while for the boys to get back into the routine, both on the court and academically. Shand explained that the boys need to stay on top of their grades, which has set the team back; some of the players were not able to play at all because of academic and attendance problems. Once they jumped over this hurdle, then there was the hurdle of building team chemistry before the Eagles could even start looking like a team.
In the first several games, the Eagles lost to teams such as Horizon Honors (39-64), a 2A team. Eagles Team Captains Anthony Miles and Leo Barker tried their best to pick up the slack while keeping the Eagles focused, even though the team was behind in their first game.
“When we are subbing in guys that are 5’10” and they are subbing in guys that are 6’6”, it makes a big difference,” said Shand, “but we played hard and have stayed competitive through all seven losses.”
The team is still learning what it takes to win a basketball game, Shand said. “We have the talent, but we have not fully committed to the little things, like diving for loose balls, that can make a good team a great team.”
This year the coaching staff has changed the offense from the way they played last year and given the players a little more freedom on the court. “We are letting them be creative in the game. The team still needs some structure from the coaches, but for the most part we step back and let them take responsibility for their team and let them use the natural talent that they have,” said Shand. This year the coaches are empowering the team captains to become the vocal leaders for the Eagles. A lot of the discipline and leadership has come from the coaching staff in previous years, and this year the coaches are letting the boys take more ownership of the team.
“We leave the captains to discipline their teammates, as well as themselves, and learn from it,” said Shand.
“Jordan Manuel, Anthony Miles and Leo Barker are the team leaders as well as the leading scorers in many games,” Shand noted. “Barker has been playing some really good defense with highlight blocks, like blocking shots to the backboard. At times, you can see the team’s inexperience come in, especially when other teams are outscoring them, then they sort of get down a bit. And it takes time to show them that the game is not over yet, and they must continue to play their best. They are working on that and being in the leadership role.”
Shand and the rest of the coaching staff are trying to get the players into roles where they can contribute to the team, but sometimes it does not always work like that. “We had some real deep issues within the team, such as letting go of our junior varsity team,” he said. This team has more seniors than the two years combined that Shand has coached at Salt River.
During the Phoenix Country Day School Desert Classic Basketball Tournament, the Eagles faced 2A, top-5 state-ranked Westwind Prep, whose roster boasts three NCAA Division 1 recruits and six players more than 6’3” tall, including a 6’9” center from China. The tallest player on the Eagles team is about 6 feet tall.
The returning Eagles players are determined not to let the downfalls of last season happen again, and they plan to stay motivated throughout every game. Fans are asked to attend the games and help cheer the team on.