The Carl Hayden and Phoenix Alhambra boys basketball teams combined to go 14-36 this season.
When Mesa came to their gyms, though, the stands were packed and spectators had to be turned away.
"And they sure weren't there to watch me," Mesa coach Shane Burcar said.
All eyes were on Mesa point guard Jahii Carson this season, and he didn't disappoint. The 5-foot-10 senior finished the season with an average of 32.2 points per game, taking the Jackrabbits to the 5A Division I semifinals before getting knocked off by Brophy.
Carson's swan song may have been his most impressive high school game. He shot 25-of-38 from the field and scored 58 points against the Broncos. If he didn't foul out with 1:35 remaining, Carson may have broken the 5A single-game scoring record of 62 points, set by North's Dennis Dairman in 1960.
"It was bittersweet for me," Carson said. "Fifty-eight points, that's a good game. But losing to a team we beat twice in the regular season, that's the bitter part."
Despite the semifinal loss, it was an impressive final year for Carson, whose play earned him the Tribune's Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
Burcar has coached several top players at Mesa, including Lee Cummard, Aaron Fuller and Donte Medder. To him, though, Carson stands out. Burcar said Carson's performance against Brophy was the best he'd ever seen, surpassing a display put on by Chris Webber when he was a sophomore in high school.
"When you walk into the gym, everyone knows who he is, whether it's a six-year-old or a 56-year-old," Burcar said. "They're expecting something out of him. I asked him once, ‘Do you feel pressure?' And he said, ‘I know I'm supposed to perform, but it's still fun.'"
Carson was scrutinized heavily after he transferred from Mountain Pointe to Mesa following his sophomore year. He seemed to thrive under the spotlight, helping the Jackrabbits to 25 and 21 wins in his two years with the program.
Despite some outside concerns that the addition of Carson would cause chemistry problems, Burcar repeatedly said there were no such issues on the team.
Although he didn't win a championship, Carson said he was happy to make a run at it with his Mesa teammates.
"To take that journey with guys you have a relationship with, that have your back on the court, that was a special moment for me," Carson said. "Even though we didn't win a state championship, the journey for me was great. I have no regrets."
All-Tribune Boys Basketball First Team
Player School Pos. Yr. Comment
Jahii Carson Mesa G Sr. Arizona State commit averaged 32.2 points; scored 58 in 5A-I semifinals
Jordan Baker Tempe G Sr. Averaged 27.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists to lead Buffs to 4A-I title game
Calaen Robinson Corona del Sol G Jr. Central Region POY garnering D-I interest; tough defender, good mid-range game
Cameron Forte McClintock F Sr. Averaged 36.2 points and 12.7 rebounds; set three 4A records this season
Larry Lewis Arcadia G Jr. USC commit averaged 25.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for 26-2 Titans
Player of the Year: Jahii Carson, Mesa
Coach of the Year: Gary Ernst, Mountain View - Toros didn't have same individual talent as past title teams, but went 27-3 on season and cruised to championship.
All-Tribune Boys Basketball Second Team
Player School Pos. Yr. Comment
Camyn Boone Mtn. View F Jr. Soft touch around the hoop, solid defensively and on the glass for 5A-I champs
Collin Woods Horizon G Sr. Desert Valley Region POY averaged 21.8 points, 3.9 rebounds per game; committed to UC-Irvine
Danny Powell Desert Vista F Jr. Double-double machine averaged 19.2 points, 10.5 rebounds in first year with Thunder
Tylor Wimbish Mountain Pointe F Sr. Averaged 18.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, shot 56 percent; good touch around hoop
Drew Bender Pinnacle F So. Averaged 17.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists for 5A-II semifinalists
All-Tribune honorable mention selections
Arcadia: Brandon Dixon, Sr., G; Andrew Naderer, Jr., G; Basha: Torren Jones, So., F; Brophy: Sai Tummala, Sr., F; James Harper, Jr., F; Cactus Shadows: Max Gersh, Sr., G; Casey Perrin, Sr., G; Chandler: Andre Norris, Jr., G; Chaparral: Zeke Chapman, Sr., G; Luke Roh, Sr., G; Corona del Sol: Avery Moss, Jr., F; Coronado: Alain Martinez, Sr., G; Desert Mountain: Peter Smith, Sr., G; Randy Azuogo, Sr., F; Desert Ridge: Derreck Brooks, Jr., G; Cody Pennington, Jr., G; Dobson: Malcolm McKinney, Sr., G: Fountain Hills: Jeffrey Bonner, Jr., G; Tyler Bode, Sr., F; Gilbert Christian: Connor Patterson, Jr., F; Brandon Palacio, Sr., G. Hamilton: Jack Cone, Sr., G; Eric Jacobsen, Jr. F; Higley: Dimitri Jones, Sr., G; Marcos de Niza: T.J. Burke, Sr., F; Mesa: Desmond Medder, Jr., G; Mesquite: Jason Garretson, Sr., G; Sami Bzai, Jr., G; Mountain Pointe: Jerome Garrison, Sr., G; Mountain View: Jaren Sweeney, Sr., G; Kyle Bingham, Sr., F; Notre Dame: Joey Sheridan, Sr., G; Perry: Dillon Smock, Sr., G; Pinnacle: Kevin Bowman, Jr., G; Poston Butte: Maurice Kirby, So., F; Jalen Richard, So., G; Red Mountain: Eric Pacheco, Jr. G; Saguaro: Jack Connors, Sr., G; Scottsdale Christian: Tuff Barnes, Sr., F; Jake Cipolletti, Sr. G; Seton Catholic: Adam Englebert, Jr., G; Skyline: Angel Ung, Sr., G; St. Mary's: Chris Mason, Sr. G; Valley Christian: Jeff Reinhart, Sr., G; Westwood: Luke Tingey, Jr., G; Williams Field: Stephen Larkin, Sr., G; Dan Tepovich, Sr., G.
Memorable moments from the 2010-2011 season
Scoring controversy: McClintock forward Cameron Forte set the 4A record for points in a game when he dropped 60 in a 96-42 victory over Combs in early January. He finished the game 27-of-36 from the field and and hit 5-of-10 free throws. However, there was split reaction to the record because Forte was purposely fed the ball in the fourth quarter of a blowout to set the mark.
Jahii's big night: Mesa's season ended in the 5A-I semifinals because the team couldn't do anything to stop Brophy on the defensive end. But senior point guard Jahii Carson did everything he could to keep the Jackrabbits in it. Carson, who will play for Arizona State next season, put on a phenomenal display, scoring 58 points on 25-of-38 shooting. North's Dennis Dairman holds the 5A record for points in a game at 62, and if Carson didn't foul out with 1:35 remaining, he would have had a good shot at breaking the 51-year-old record.
Baker's finger roll to beat Arcadia: Tempe had played Arcadia twice in the regular season and lost both times. The teams met again in the playoffs, and the result flipped. Tempe guard Jordan Baker shook off a poor shooting night (1-of-15 from 3-point range) to score a go-ahead bucket on a field goal with nine seconds remaining, and the Buffaloes held on for the one-point win. Tempe made it to the state championship game before losing to Tucson Amphitheater.
Cruise control: Mountain View entered the 5A Division I tournament as one of several contenders, but left as the clear-cut top team in the state. The Toros beat Mesquite by 26 points in the first round, Corona del Sol by 25 in the quarterfinals, Buena by 28 in the semifinals and Brophy by 21 in the championship game. Mountain View ended the season on an 11-game winning streak.
Steve Currier's mid-season firing: Gilbert Christian went undefeated last season and won the 1A state championship. Midway through this year, the Knights were 12-3 and in contention to repeat when longtime coach Steve Currier was fired. Currier said a prominent donor to the school initiated the dismissal because he deemed Currier's coaching style too negative, although the school administration refused to comment. Gilbert Christian lost to Orme in the 1A state title game.
5A-II thriller: The best state final came in 5A-II, as Betty Fairfax knocked off Chaparral, 65-60, in double-overtime. Firebirds guard Zeke Chapman had chances to win the game at the end of regulation and the first overtime, but couldn't convert. Chaparral lost in the state championship game for the second consecutive year.