If this was basketball circa 1955, the Hamilton boys basketball team would hardly qualify as distinctive or unique: A bunch of guys who pass the ball around and play defense.
Since it’s 2014, however, and the game, and its players — physically and mentally — have changed drastically, the Huskies’ success this season could be considered an outlier.
Or, at least, it looks that way. Despite a narrow loss to Phoenix Central in the Super Sectional tournament late last week, the Huskies’ resumé in 2013-2014 is strong as the boys and girls basketball state tournaments begin this week.
A couple kids could get some looks from Division II, III, or junior colleges, or try to walk-on somewhere after high school, but there is no Div. I prospect here. Six guys play at least 13 minutes per game. Five guys average between eight and 12 points per game. Nobody averages more than 12 points per game, and seven guys have taken at least 100 shots this season. The Huskies (23-3, 16-3 in power rankings games) like to get out and run when they can, but when there’s nothing available in transition, there’s a whole lot of passing and patience to go around.
Throw in the strong discussion and use of the “D” word — defense — and it’s surprising the Huskies don’t all sport buzz cuts and hit the malt shop after games.
The Huskies enter the weekend 16th among Div. I schools in scoring (58.5 points per game) but have allowed 47 points per game by grinding teams into a patient, half-court style many kids don’t want to play these days. A couple players admitted to enjoying shutting down opponents.
Senior point guard Zach Evans offered one of those admission with a smile, and was asked if he thought he’d ever acknowledge enjoying defense, a laborious, unglamorous pursuit.
“No, I didn’t, to be honest,” he said.
“I was kind of lazy when I started (high school), but it was winning games and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the ‘W’ coming. Defense can take us where we want to go and it’s worked for us almost all season.”
With all the attention — understandably — surrounding Corona del Sol, Pinnacle, Gilbert, Highland, Dobson and Perry in Division I, the Huskies raced out to an undefeated November and December, including winning Mesa’s “Fear the Hop” tournament with a dramatic finish against Dobson. Hamilton has not only beaten a solid stable of squads with their style (Mesa, Red Mountain, Dobson, Highland, Perry and Desert Mountain) and are 4-2 in games decided by five points or fewer.
The Huskies were throttled by Corona del Sol on Jan. 7, the first loss of the season. Two days later, they staged a solid fourth quarter comeback against Gilbert but fell in overtime.
Those consecutive losses were followed by 10 straight wins until the loss to Phoenix Central on Wednesday, though the Huskies could still earn at least a first-round home game (if not a first-round bye as a top 8 seed) when the brackets are revealed on Sunday.
“It’s sometimes against the norm, lots of teams and kids want to play fast and shoot fast,” Huskies coach Kevin Hartwig said. “Our guys have been a great reflection of how it’s a team game and that’s made it a pleasure from the starters through the bench.”
The Huskies have a solid big man in junior James Sosinski (11.8 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game), and a point guard in Evans (10.5 points per game, 4.7 assists per game, 2 turnovers per game). The rest has been a “next man up” mentality offensively and “every man up” defensively. Sosinski can block shots, but most of the games are spent contesting shots, rebounding and waiting on teams to take rushed or ill-advised shots out of impatience.
For the style to continue into late February, the Huskies are counting on guys like Deonte Harrington, Dylan McCall and Anthony Withers on both ends of the floor to consistently aid this textbook style of play,
It’s a style they’re happy to report that nobody else likes to see.
“I think we saw what we’re going to be in the summer and it became about wins and not stats or scoring points or style points,” Sosinksi said. “I think we like shutting teams down, take them out of their game. There’s a kind of cool in-your-head feeling for us and them that happens when you shut someone down.
“We don’t need to be known. Nobody cares about getting ‘theirs’ or who does what. We just know we all have to do everything to win games.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.