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AIA365 Staff | Students

Don Ketchum

Staff Writer,

Young PCDS strives to create magic that led to hoops title

Nov 30, 2012

The 2011-12 boys’ basketball season was magical for the program at Phoenix Country Day School.

The team won the Division IV championship over Phoenix Arizona Lutheran and A.J. Hess was selected Small School Player of the Year by The Arizona Republic.

But this is another year, a different year. Is there life after a state championship?

At first glance, the answer would appear to be no.

The program lost eight seniors, including Hess and Nate Nearhood, had another player transfer to another school to play lacrosse, and has only one returning senior with any extended amount of playing time. The rest is a mixture of young players. PCDS coach and athletic director Shane Lewis said he has a combination of 17 freshmen and sophomores at the varsity and junior-varsity levels, with four freshmen on the varsity.

That said, there still is life, an air of legitimacy to the program that a title can bring. The Eagles lost two of their first three games, but rebounded for a 65-21 win over Mayer in Friday’s (Nov. 30) first round of in the PCDS Desert Classic. Lewis’ team was to play two more games on Friday, with more games scheduled Saturday (Dec. 1).

Lewis admitted it was a magical group of players he had. Hess now plays for Southern Utah, Nearhood at Colorado College and Matt Selling at Trinity in San Antonio.

Lewis said this year’s young group is similar to the group that produced the title.

“When those guys were sophomores, there were nine seniors on the varsity. We made the state playoffs in the (old) Class 2A,’’ said Lewis, in his fifth year at the school and fourth as coach and AD.

 “The next year, we had a bunch of really good juniors come up from the JV. We just got stronger and stronger as the season went on. We were an 11 seed and we beat Willcox, a 6 seed, in triple overtime. We beat Phoenix Christian for our first-ever playoff win and it was so exciting around here that we thought they were going to throw us a parade or something.

“Then we had a tough loss to Thatcher. In the locker room afterward, everybody was hanging their head a bit. We started talking about next year and one of my assistant coaches took it a step further. He said, “We are going to win a state championship.’ The tears turned to cheers and we were back in the weight room on the following Monday. They set out to win the state championship, and they did it.’’

The team did it with an unselfish attitude. Hess had averaged 24 points as a junior and then 19 as a senior. Nearhood had averaged 17 points as a junior and 11 as a senior.

“They knew that we had a lot of options, that we needed to get everybody involved on offense,’’ Lewis said. “That, and whichever five guys we had on the floor played defense all the time.’’

This year’s team has shown the same flashes of promise.

“I really enjoy the developmental process. You have to remember that a lot of these kids are only 14 years old. There also is a lot of excitement at the lower levels. We have three middle-school teams and they have a lot of good players.

“Our school is good in that it allows kids to play three sports, get a good education and then move on to college. In some schools, the kids focus in on just one sport.’’

Phoenix Country Day isn’t going to have the high-flying, show-stopping dunks that a few programs might have, but Lewis said, “You will see our fundamentals, our skills, and how we play together. That will take you a long way.’’

The team’s top senior this year is guard Alex Sylvester, who is a fine all-around athlete and likely will wind up playing soccer in college.

Among the top young players are sophomore guard Nihaal Reddy, a 3-point marksman, freshman guards Yash Muley and Andrew Ekmark and freshman big man Jacob Bain. If Ekmark’s name seems familiar, it should. His father, Curtis, is head coach of the nationally ranked girls’ team at Phoenix St. Mary’s and his sister, Courtney, is a star player there as a junior this season.

“I think we are going to be very good at some point,’’ Lewis said.

It’s all a matter of having the patience.