St. Mary’s had so much star power this season that any number of players could explode for a big scoring night.
But the orchestrator of the offense never changed.
Chantel Osahor is an unlikely maestro by appearance, but it doesn’t take long to realize her importance to the Knights’ halfcourt offense.
St. Mary’s uses back-door cuts and movement to initiate its offense, and no passer in the state compares to the junior forward. Osahor’s court vision and awareness made for countless easy buckets this season, which was a big reason why the Knights so easily mowed down their competition.
“She’s the best passing post I’ve ever seen,” St. Mary’s coach Curtis Ekmark said. “She’s got to be one of the best five passers in the country, period, and the other four are point guards. She is truly gifted at it.”
Osahor was the glue for the Knights this season as they posted a 30-0 record and grabbed a second straight state championship. Her combination of scoring, passing and rebounding abilities have garnered Osahor the Tribune’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year award.
Local coaches have compared her game to NBA All-Star Kevin Love. Ekmark goes back a generation and likens her to hall-of-famer Wes Unseld.
Osahor said it’s hard to explain the innate court awareness she brings from the high post.
“I feel like the ball just lets go,” she said. “If I see a teammate open, it just comes out of my hands. They deserve to get that pass instead of running for nothing.”
Ekmark calls Osahor a ‘matchup nightmare’ for opponents.
She can stretch out defenses with a 3-point shot or get baskets inside against smaller defenders.
She kickstarts fast breaks by hauling down defensive rebounds and then firing the ball out to sprinting teammates. Ekmark said he’s never coached a player with such a varied skill-set.
“There aren’t a lot of kids in America that can get a double-double that’s rebounds and assists,” he said. “She’s a very unique kid and allows us to do so much.”
Osahor, who skipped eighth grade and just recently turned 16, said it was a big goal to send seniors Shilpa Tummala and Cortnee Walton out with a championship this year.
She will be a senior next season, and the Knights will look different without those two players. Osahor said she’s ready to take on a bigger scoring role if needed, but she’s not going to force it.
“I’ll just do what’s best for the team,” she said. “If it’s to shoot more, if it’s pass more, I’ll do it. It’s going to be different without (Tummala and Walton), but as long as we play our game and still know our roles, I think we’ll be OK.”
For Ekmark, it’s the perfect luxury.
“If you watch us play, she’s content to score only when we need it,” he said. “There are a lot of people that go out to pad their stats against inferior opponents. She is content to get others involved. As she’s gotten more experience and older, she’s learning when she needs to turn it on and when to get others involved.”
Opposing coaches should get the film ready, because the state’s most versatile player may be adding more to her repertoire.
“She just gives us so many different opportunities,” Ekmark said.
Memorable moments from the 2011-2012 season
National champions?: It might have been the most dominant girls basketball team in state history. St. Mary’s returned its entire roster that lost one game all season in 2010-2011 and won the 2011 state championship. This time, the Knights finished 30-0 against Arizona schools, out-of-state schools at the Nike Tournament of Champions and an Australian team, and were barely threatened in any game this season (a six-point victory against Chandler was by far the closest game played all season). They were the No. 3 seed in name only, as they were ranked No. 1 by several national outlets. The Knights won their four state tournament games by an average of 33 points with balanced scoring and ferocious pressure defense. Two key components were seniors (Shilpa Tummala and Cortnee Walton), but the rest will return.
Seton Catholic trifecta: This year’s Seton Catholic team didn’t have the one of the Wirth sisters patrolling the low post, and this new group was in much shorter supply of star power. No matter. Moving up to Division II with only four players who received playing time during last year’s 4A-II championship run, Karen Self’s team did it with poise, passing and dynamic defense. A squad heavy on sophomores and juniors, it grew up during the Nike Tournament of Champions against top competition, survived a difficult Div. II, Section III schedule against Saguaro, Arcadia, and Phoenix South Mountain, and held on in three of four close games during the state tournament. After pulling away from Peoria late in the title game, and given the roster and variance from the previous two title teams, the school’s third consecutive state championship and sixth overall in Self’s tenure might have meant a little more.
Tempe Prep gets title: Up in Prescott Valley, a three-day weekend turned into a Div. IV title for Tempe Prep, which earned the No. 1 seed and, eventually, its first championship. The genesis began when the Knights unexpectedly lost last year in the second round of the 1A playoffs to Desert Christian. The mission was on, and despite losing starting forward Lisa Dischinger to a fractured leg in late January, Janel Brinkman, Camille Zimmerman and defense led the way. Tempe Prep earned a first-round bye, beat Duncan, Salt River, and then Joseph City, 46-38, in the title game. The rest of Division IV better grow up quickly: The Knights plan on returning three starters who are 6-foot tall.
Nike tournament success: Arizona teams have often been fodder for out-of-state competition during the widely-acclaimed Nike Tournament of Champions each December. But this year local teams held their own. St. Mary’s won the tournament by defeating Riverdale Baptist of Upper Marlboro, Md., which was the top-ranked team in the nation according to Maxpreps.com. Chandler and Mountain View each won lower-division championships, while Desert Vista and Pinnacle finished as runners-up.