Covering every local basketball team in three days
It took me 52 hours to see every single varsity basketball team in the area.
Sixteen teams. Eight games. Three days. All while getting over being sick.
I considered it sort of a barnstorming tour.
There was a game where a team needed to give a jersey to a wrestler just to field five players on the court. Another game was suspended because the hard rain seeped through the roof and onto the floor.
And that was just the first day.
Day 1 - Yuma Catholic at San Pasqual
As I settled in before the boys teams played (San Pasqual has the boys play first with doubleheaders), I looked over the shoulder of the scorekeeper for the Warriors and saw five names. I gazed up and saw five players warming up on the San Pasqual side.
Oh no, I thought. This is going to be bad.
Yuma Catholic came into the game with one loss — to Division I Tucson — and have easily beat Gila Ridge and Kofa. The Shamrocks are one of the better teams in the state at Division IV and the Warriors needed wrestler Jesus Duenes to play for them because of injuries and ineligibility.
The Shamrocks could have become those teams that win 200-3. Sophomore post Matt Pistone could have scored 100 points.
Instead, Yuma Catholic played its starters in the first quarter and they were done. The bench players got to play the rest of the way and the final score — 76-28 — is an indication of a lop-sided win instead of going out of their way to embarrass the Warriors. It's the kind of game that always brings an interesting question — how does a team that's winning by 30-40 points handle the fourth quarter. I've always thought it was more insulting of a team to simply stop playing and hold the ball with seven minutes left to go than to continue to play with their bench players. There's something condescending about a team saying, “You are so bad that we're going to stop playing because we feel sorry for you.”
During the girls game, with my sore throat feeling like I swallowed thumbtacks and it being as cold as a meat locker in the gym, it wasn't the most enjoyable experience I've had covering a game. Then, moments into the second half I saw something I've never seen at a basketball game — it was suspended because of rain. Despite living in Oregon for two decades and playing in plenty of old gyms, I've never seen a leaky roof end a game prematurely. Who knew I'd have to come to come to Arizona to see it?
Day 2 - San Luis at Antelope
Of all the gyms I've been to, Antelope may be my favorite. It's perfectly lit — and by that, I mean just the right amount of darkness. The old floor and school banners around the gym make it feel like the perfect old, “Hoosiers” style basketball cathedrals that I'm a complete sucker for. It was my first time covering a basketball game at Antelope and it had won me over the second I walked through the door.
The Sidewinder teams came into Wellton and each picked up their first win of the year. In the boys game, it was an exciting game that went down to the wire even though San Luis and Antelope came into the game a combined 1-13.
Day 3 - The Jamboree
This was the most strenuous day of all. With Gila Ridge, Cibola, Kofa and Yuma High all participating in the AWC High School Basketball Jamboree, I had to cover four games in a row. Get my interviews and write my story of one game while I kept record of the next.
When I was a freshman in high school, I distinctly remember being called up to varsity after a JV game and that night, in the middle of a close game with a rival, the coach told me to check in. I was shaking as I knelt in front of the scorer's table, waiting for a dead ball in the closing moments of the quarter. That dead ball didn't come and the coach called me back and I didn't play — which was more than fine for me.
I bring this up because in the girls game between Gila Ridge and Cibola, freshman Nadine Gil caught a pass at the 3-point line with her team down one and 30 seconds left in the game. She could have passed the ball, which I'm sure I would have done as a freshman.
Instead, she let it fly.
She banked it in and even though she didn't call it, the three counted and the Hawks won by two after trailing by eight points in the fourth quarter.
In the other girls game, Kofa breezed past Yuma High and it's looking like it will be a three-team race for who is the best in the city. Kofa beat Gila Ridge twice, Cibola beat Kofa and now Gila Ridge has beat Cibola. It looks like a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
According to MaxPreps, Kofa and Cibola play two more times, Kofa and Gila Ridge play two more times and Cibola and Gila Ridge play one more game before the end of the year.
On the boys' side, it's pretty clear who the best team at the Jamboree was.
The Cibola Raiders have the most talent of any team in the area, led by senior guard Jordan Mitchell, who scored his 1,001st point on Saturday. They also are a team that clearly has gears.
There are many different parts to what make Cibola so tough and sometimes one or two of them aren't working properly. They have the outside shooting of Brett Boyer/Noah Thompson/Isaiah Brown, the height and rebounding of Steven Loucks and the athleticism of T.J. Smith — all of it balanced with the do-everything play of Mitchell.
But on Saturday, we got a glimpse of what can happen with Cibola puts it all together. When the first quarter ended, Cibola led Gila Ridge 15-2 and the Hawks had a look of, “What just happened?”
The first time I saw Kofa play this year — in a loss to Calexico to start the Southwest Rotary Classic on Dec. 6 — it didn't look pretty and the Kings managed 30 points.
What a difference nine days make.
Against a much-improved Yuma High, the young Kings came away with a 72-62 win behind 25 points from sophomore Isaac Coronado, who could become very scary for opposing coaches in the years to come.
Long after everyone had left the Matador gym and it was just me and the maintenance man, I filed my stories closed my laptop and got in my car.
After 52 hours, my barnstorming tour had come to an end.