McClintock forward Cameron Forte and Tempe guard Jordan Baker have always been close.
The pair met while playing club basketball in elementary school, and talk regularly to this day.
But when it comes to their high school basketball careers, their highs and lows never seem to coincide.
In his first two years at Tempe, Baker played varsity basketball, helping the team to the playoffs as a freshman and leading the team in scoring, assists, steals and blocks as a sophomore.
Forte, meanwhile, started at Tempe and didn’t play varsity as a freshman, then went to Marcos de Niza and finally McClintock, where he had to sit out his sophomore season because of the transfer.
Things flipped last year, though.
Forte made his presence known immediately, leading the Chargers to the 4A-I state championship by averaging 21.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Baker also started his junior season off well, but suffered a season-ending wrist fracture in the Great Desert Shootout in late December when he was undercut following a block. Tempe started 6-4 with Baker and won only two games the rest of the way.
Both players have had their ups and downs, but now as seniors in separate 4A divisions, they each have a shot at a grand finale.
“We both have a chance to carry our teams to championships,” Forte said. “If our teammates play up to the level we know they can, we’ll both go pretty far.”
McClintock is the seventh seed in the 4A-I state tournament, where it will face off against No. 10 Tucson Catalina Foothills in the first round on Tuesday.
Tempe is also the No. 7 seed, and it will take on No. 10 Mohave on Tuesday.
While neither team is favored to win a title, the presence of Baker and Forte makes it impossible for opponents to overlook them.
“We were kind of underrated as younger kids,” Baker said. “It’s just nice to finally get our names out.”
Forte said it’s still hard to put into words what it meant to win the state title last year, when McClintock beat Phoenix Sunnyslope for the trophy.
The Chargers have a new supporting cast around him and struggled early in the year, but they have only lost one game since Jan. 4. Forte has been a big reason why. Earlier this season, he set a 4A record with 60 points in a game, and followed it up with 45 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Baker and Tempe.
Forte’s seen enough glimpses of what this team can be that he believes another championship is a possibility. McClintock is 18-9 heading into the tournament.
“We’ve picked it up a lot,” Forte said. “If we play a little harder at both ends of the court, we’ll be alright.”
Baker was more of a role player on the Tempe team that made the tournament when he was a freshman. He is the unquestioned leader now. He leads the team with averages of 27.3 points, 5.0 assists and 2.9 steals per contest. The Buffaloes are 19-9 on the season.
The 6-foot-3 point guard was beginning to draw interest from colleges as a sophomore, but that was put on hold while he rehabilitated his wrist for five months after the injury. The physical therapists told him not to play any basketball while his wrist healed up, but since it was his off-hand, he couldn’t help but hoist up shots in the gym.
He came back with a splash in club basketball and received several offers before choosing to play for Pepperdine next year.
Baker said he’s getting excited for his college career, but has some unfinished business at the high school level.
“Every morning I wake up, I know I’m that much closer to playing college ball,” Baker said. “It’s definitely exciting, but I’m not ready for this season to be over yet. We still have four games left.”
Baker would love to finish his career with a championship.
Forte wants another one.
“A couple of the kids on our team would have two,” Forte said. “Not too many people in the state have done that for any sport.”
Forte said the immediacy of the situation has really sunk in now that he is a senior.
“It’s more than just going out there and playing,” Forte said. “From here on out, you just have to go as hard as you can. You don’t want to look back and say, ‘Well, if I would have done this we would have gone further.’ This is the time to strap down. At the end of the day, they’re going to look at how you played in your final game.”
The 4A-II state championship is at noon on Feb. 26. The 4A-I title game is just four hours later.
If Forte or Baker make it that far, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the other one there cheering him on.
But they’re hoping to both be on the court that Saturday afternoon, not in the stands.
“I’ll be rooting him on,” Baker said. “He’s like my brother. We’re not in the same division, so hopefully they can win state , and then we can go win it.”