The holiday boys basketball tournaments have wrapped up, and it’s time for the second half of the power points schedule. Before we move ahead, here is a look at the notable teams, players and moments from the first two months of the season:
Best player: Casey Benson, G, Corona del Sol
The Aztecs won 30 games in a row to close out last season, culminating in the Division I state championship. However, with the loss of Calaen Robinson, Avery Moss and Andrus Peat, the team was seen as a fringe contender heading into 2012-13. Benson, though, has elevated his game to an elite level and has made Corona del Sol a legitimate threat to repeat. The 6-foot-3 point guard excels at attacking the rim and consistently makes good decisions on whether to shoot or kick the ball out. Furthermore, his improved jump shot has forced defenders to pick their poison. Benson doesn’t just get the nod because of his talent, but for his ability to make his teammates better.
Honorable mention: Payton Dastrup, F, Mountain View; Jordan Howard, G, Perry; Dorian Pickens, F, Pinnacle; Richaud Gittens, F, Marcos de Niza.
Best team: Mesa
The Jackrabbits started the season ominously, with a one-point loss to Hamilton. Since then, though, Mesa has won 14 of 15 games, the only loss coming in the championship game of the Under Armour Classic in Torrey Pines, Calif. The Jackrabbits have the deepest team in the state and great balance. D.J. Henderson is the go-to scorer, but a rapidly improving Isaac Allen may be the X-factor with his defensive abilities. Mesa has elite individual talent and the ability to play within a team concept, which has made the Jackrabbits the top team in the East Valley in the first half of the season.
Honorable mention: Desert Mountain; Corona del Sol.
Breakout star: Jordan Howard, G, Perry
The diminutive point guard averaged 12.4 points per game as a sophomore last season and showed flashes of what he could become. Once Desmond Howard and Lucas O’Brien graduated and Ryan Richardson transferred to Dobson, it became Howard’s show, and he has run with it. The Pumas’ star leads the East Valley in scoring at 25.4 points per game and has led the team to an 11-6 record despite all the defections after last season. Howard is the main focus of every team’s defensive game plan but still manages to score in bunches.
Honorable mention: Zach Green, G, Mesquite; Marco Morales, G, Chandler; Rolando Rhymes, G, Desert Mountain.
Biggest surprise: Dobson
In the case of the Mustangs, ‘Biggest surprise’ isn’t a good thing. With the pairing of Richardson and fellow transfer Jaron Hopkins with Kodi Justice, Dobson figured to be among the top teams in the state. After a solid start, the Mustangs were beaten by Corona del Sol and then dismantled by Mesa, taking the shine off quickly. Dobson continued to have trouble at the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge, and with an 11-5 record through the first half of the year, has not come close to reaching its potential. Justice missed the first seven games with a broken foot and is still rounding into form, and Dobson still has a chance to figure out its issues. But the clock is ticking.
Honorable mention: Highland; Desert Mountain; Mountain View.
Biggest favorite: Gilbert Christian
The Knights lost their first two games of the season at the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge, but are still 14-2 and undefeated against Division III brethren. Sam Jones has stepped his game up while Roberto Reyes and Dylan Bliss — the other holdovers from last year’s title team — are also playing well. Gilbert Christian is moving up to Division II next season, but seems to have the inside track on repeating as state champions before leaving.
Honorable mention: None.
Best game: Mesa 51, Gilbert 50 (OT)
The teams were ranked high in preseason polls and met in the Fear the Hop tournament championship game. The game didn’t disappoint. Felipe Velazco tipped in an Isaac Allen miss with 12 seconds remaining in overtime to give Mesa the victory. Christian Harris hit a game-tying 3-pointer for the Jackrabbits with 10 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Anthony Bryant had a chance to win the game for Gilbert but missed a floater following Velazco’s crucial put-back. Neither team led by more than six points the entire contest.
Honorable mention: Mountain View 62, Gilbert 57 (OT); Red Mountain 64, Saguaro 63; Poston Butte 59, Basha 57.