PHOENIX — Before coming up short Saturday night against Riverside (Calif.) Poly High School in the Section 7 Team Camp event at Brophy Prep, Salpointe Catholic was on a 16-game winning streak this summer.
The 74-67 loss was not all that demoralizing. The Lancers still have a chip on their collective shoulder. That Class 4A state semifinal loss to Phoenix Shadow Mountain four months ago is on their minds, especially after losing in the title game to Mike Bibby‘s former team two years ago.
Salpointe is also building for what’s ahead behind a solid senior class that includes tough-as-nails and high-basketball-IQ standouts such as Evan Nelson, Jake Cioe, Grant Weitman, Jordan Gainey and Braden Miller.
Salpointe coach Jim Reynolds sees the loss as an opportunity to build on the team’s shortcomings that were not as apparent during the long winning streak.
“I’ve always believed that you find your players and how you should play and your weaknesses at this time of year,” Reynolds said. “We have weaknesses that were not exposed to us losing a game yet, but I see it. That’s what we have worked on in practices, help more on defense, see the ball, board better.
“Sometimes we get stagnant and stand around on offense. We have to keep moving. We’re really hard to guard if we’re moving.”
Nelson, who will narrow his college list to five schools soon and will officially visit Rice next weekend, had 23 points against Riverside Poly but he took 23 shots to make eight. The Lancers rallied to keep the game close behind the shooting of Weitman (7 of 11 from the field) and Sean Miller‘s son Braden (4 of 6) but Reynold’s team struggled on the boards (outrebounded 21-7 in the 32-minute game of two 16-minute halves).
Salpointe leads Gilbert 45-33 at the half. Their 2020 backcourt duo of Evan Nelson and Jordan Gainey have looked impressive. Couple PAC-12’s are in the building to see Nelson, who is blowing up at Section 7 pic.twitter.com/bxeDxiewxM
Gainey, son of Arizona assistant Justin Gainey, also shot well at 4 of 7 from the field.
The rebounding discrepancy is a concern for Reynolds, who voiced his opinion of that the night before after the Lancers beat Los Angeles Heritage Christian 77-60 but allowed too many offensive rebounds in the late stages of the game.
“We couldn’t get a defensive rebound in the last 10 minutes, which is scary in the long run because we’re not big,” Reynolds said. “But I like what I see overall. We’re as good as our next game. Obviously it’s fun to be playing at a high level right now.
“Typically, you’re not but we’re so experienced. The way these guys play fits my personality and the way I think a team should play.”
Salpointe senior Evan Nelson talks about his recruitment — he takes an official visit to Rice next weekend — and the Lancers' unbeaten run through the summer to this point. pic.twitter.com/mCTqzyuY0c
Reynolds views the addition of 6-foot-9 junior Myles Hersha to the varsity as a positive development, especially toward the end of the 2019-20 season after he gets more practices and games under his belt. His presence inside should benefit the Lancers, who lost 6-5 Majok Deng, 6-3 Ryan Grabosch and 6-3 Luc Rosenblatt to graduation.
Make no mistake, Salpointe will be a guard-oriented team this upcoming season with the playmaking strengths of Nelson, Miller, Gainey, Weitman and Cioe. Tucson has rarely if ever had that many dynamic senior perimeter players on one team.
Cioe is the most unsung among them. Although he is 5-foot-11 “he rebounds like he is 6-5. He gives 100 percent, 100 percent of the time as far as work ethic goes. It’s a fun group,” Reynolds said. Among Cioe’s suitors is NAIA school Park University in Gilbert, which includes assistant David Thomas, the former head coach at Pusch Ridge.
Salpointe beats Perry 73-51 for title at Monarch event at Mesquite high school pic.twitter.com/pV3u0ljsYv
“(The summer success) will translate well into the season,” Reynolds said. “Our guys share the ball. Everybody can drive by somebody. Usually there are some big dudes out there who can’t guard us and everybody can shoot.
“All of our top five or six guys could play the point if they had to. When we run a fast break it does not matter who has the ball.”
Nelson had 37 points in the win over Heritage Christian, which includes Arizona Class of 2022 recruiting target Skyy Clark. In my many interviews with him over the last season, Nelson consistently mentions “team chemistry” and “basketball IQ” in his comments about the Lancers.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with our team,” Nelson said with a broad smile after his 37-point performance. “We have a lot of chemistry on our team. Everybody scores. We have good ball movement, great chemistry, a lot of high IQ guys.
“I hope it translates directly (into next season). Still continue to build our team chemistry, our defense, our good offense and hopefully make a state run.”
Salpointe up by 24 points over Los Angeles Heritage Christian thanks to teamwork and ball movement like this … pic.twitter.com/KMthTJe758
After Sunday’s completion of the Section 7 event, Salpointe’s players will go their own way for AAU ball. They reunite after school on Labor Day when the school years starts and will practice two times a week leading up to preseason drills.
The summer experience is invaluable to their development, playing in weekend tournaments and practicing three days a week during June.
The exposure to college coaches is a welcome change in the summer. The new NCAA rules allow college coaches to attend summer games sanctioned by state high school agencies instead of those sponsored by shoe companies.
“It’s huge,” Reynolds said. “I read somewhere where somebody was saying that college coaches won’t like it because of all the recruitable players on one team in club ball. Don’t they want to see them play like how they will have to play in college? It’s a different game.
“Club gives our guys great skills. It gives them exposure, there’s no question about that. But individual skills are about 20 percent of every possession. You’re one of five. You have to know what to do and where to go. Sometimes I think kids lose sight of that. The pass is a forgotten thing. You see James Harden take 75 shots in a game and you forget to pass.”
Braden Miller, UA coach Sean Miller’s son, with the 3 for Salpointe pic.twitter.com/UBWMqtrGta
Defense is also something lost in those AAU games in which individuals showcase themselves on offense for the most part.
“I’ve seen more defense in these (high school) games than I have ever seen in an AAU game,” said Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who has coached for more than three decades.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.