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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — So much emphasis is placed on the star-studded recruits who play in these AAU tournaments here to close out the July evaluation period for college coaches.
We all want to know who is the finalist for a five-star player. Is John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski sitting courtside? Is an official visit planned?
Stepping away from all of that for a while yesterday afternoon was quite refreshing. I set out to watch some Tucson-area youth teams here who are not about the headlines but are all in for helping their team while improving their individual skills.
For a team like the Tucson’s 16U PowerHouse Hoops team (Class of 2018 players), the experience in the BigFoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic is most gratifying for them as they try to reach individual goals to make their respective high school teams better next season.
“I’m impressed with way they represent Tucson and represent Arizona,” said coach Jimmy Nelson, an assistant with the Mountain View varsity team who once coached at Palo Verde. “I mean, they come out and play hard and play team ball the right way.
“They don’t do a lot of jawing and talking. They get out there and compete and really try to put themselves in a position to ultimately win most of the games we’ve been playing in. They are very good kids and students. That’s one of the things that impresses me most is their off-court behavior. There are no issues. They get after it and cheer each other on.”
These kids also have college basketball aspirations, including junior center Darien Cochran, who is less than a year into his basketball development after primarily playing lacrosse at the club level.
“Apparently, I have a rapid development as I have only been playing basketball for about nine months,” said Cochran, who will be a member of Mountain View’s varsity team this school year. “I have been enjoying the game a lot and it’s helped me a lot.
“I was playing lacrosse for a little bit but I figured I needed another sport during the down time so I tried basketball and I like it.”
Cochran is listed as center although he has more of the height of a guard at 6’3″ or so. Size discrepancy is generally the case of players from Tucson, members of the PowerHouse Hoops team admitted.
“Being here gives me more of an opportunity to work on my outside shot because in Tucson, I am bigger than most of the people,” said The Gregory School’s Addison Mort, who is close to 6’0″ tall. “I am also more athletic and can take the ball to the basket whenever I want.
“I don’t really use my jump shot that much. When I come out to club ball, like out here against different players with more size, I can work on my jump shot a lot.”
Anthony Saunders of Walden Grove is getting the most out of playing the wing at AAU games here as opposed to playing the power forward and post positions in high school.
“I like it that Coach Jimmy has let me play the three (small forward) spot this year,” Saunders said. “I can take this experience back to my school and use it to our advantage because we don’t have many shooting guards. I feel like I can help the team from the perimeter using this experience.”
Players such as Mort, Saunders and Cochran are getting more playing opportunities with the PowerHouse Hoops program with three of the starters out because of injuries or personal matters. To Nelson, the unfortunate developments are a silver-lining for his active players, who have more of an opportunity to head to Tucson knowing more of their objectives of where to improve.
“They have taken it upon themselves to compete harder and battle because some of our guys are out,” Nelson said. “That shows they are team guys and focused on making themselves better.”
Nelson also knows he has the undivided attention from his players because none of them have their own agenda, like trying to go from a four-star status to five stars, for example.
“Whatever happens here, I can take it with a grain of salt,” Cochrane said. “When I do something wrong, I can forget about it and have short-term memory loss. I know it’s more important about getting better. Over time, players become more developed if they put their mind to it the right way.”
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.