Tucson Youth Sports

Tucson Rattlers thriving with best city has to offer with players, coaches

LAS VEGAS — Chris Klassen motioned assertively to incoming Tanque Verde High School freshman standout guard Kiya Dorroh to come talk to him by the bench during a stoppage in play.

In contrast to a basketball move in which she hesitated to make a play, Dorroh ran quickly to the Tucson Rattlers’ Under 17 team coach at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy gym during their first game in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thursday morning.

Klassen instructed her loud enough for everybody to hear that she must make a more timely read how her defender moves off a screen and then attack accordingly.

Tucson Rattlers U17 coach Chris Klassen talks to his players after a victory Thursday in the Las Vegas Invitational (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

He did not treat Dorroh — who already has a scholarship offer from Arizona coach Adia Barnes — with kid gloves despite her age. He instructed Bryce Cotton the same way when Cotton played for him at Palo Verde before the standout guard moved on to Providence and the NBA.

“I need that,” Dorroh admitted about Klassen’s toughness after she finished with seven points, five rebounds and four steals in the Ratters’ come-from-behind 59-57 win over an Indiana team in the AAU tournament.

“That’s how I get better,” Dorroh continued. “It just shows that he cares, (and) that he wants me to get better. If he didn’t construct me or tell me what I needed to fix, than he doesn’t care.”

Klassen comes from a rich coaching pedigree starting from when he gained instruction at the Lute Olson Basketball Camp when he was in the third grade and he befriended Olson’s longtime assistant Jim Rosborough.

Tucson Rattlers U17 coach Chris Klassen stresses court vision and awareness as part of a player’s basketball IQ. Here, Kiya Dorroh looks over the floor before her making an inbound pass (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Rosborough’s Iowa ties helped Klassen land a hoops scholarship at William Penn University in Iowa after his stellar career at Palo Verde. Following his career at William Penn in 2003, Klassen was back in Tucson coaching at the middle school level. He worked his way up to Palo Verde’s coach in 2010-11, when he coached the likes of Cotton, Dorian Paige and Roland Jones.

A season later, he joined Pima Community College’s men’s hoops staff and then moved one year after that in 2012 to the women’s team, in which he assists Todd Holthaus and works with his lifelong mentor Rosborough on what is a very credible staff.

Pima went 23-8 last season and lost to Mesa in the Region I, Division II championship, a season after winning the title.

“I learn daily from Ros,” Klassen said of Rosborough, who will enter his second year with the Aztecs this upcoming season. “When we watch film, I see 95 percent of the stuff I’m supposed to know for our playbook that we put together and he has a whole other vision.

“We collaborate. That’s why our staff is so solid. I mean, all of us work together, walk and talk each other through what we’re seeing, trying to find out the best way to defend a set and things like that. The brain activity when me, Todd and him are in there doing the film stuff, it’s fun. … You want to talk about basketball IQ. Sit in with us in a film session. That’s a lot of fun to see the wheels turning there.”

Basketball IQ.

That’s an expression Klassen hits home with his Tucson Rattlers players daily. Hourly. Every few minutes. To the bone.

He wants his players to react quicker than their opponents. He wants snap logical decisions. He stresses how a player makes a read away from the ball can be more important than what she does with it in her hands.

Catalina Foothills senior Audrey Nicholson talks about return from a knee injury that kept her sidelined for seven months and her experience with the Tucson Rattlers program.

“He’s hard on us, but it’s because he wants us to grow and break that barrier where you can start playing IQ basketball as opposed to being told what to do,” said Audrey Nicholson, a 6’3″ Catalina Foothills post player who has committed to attend Boston University.

“We’re working on a lot of things like reads and things like that to grow as players.”

Klassen acknowledges the adjustment necessary with his coaching to improve the basketball IQ of girls in contrast to how he helped develop boys in his coaching career.

“Guys like Bryce, Roland and Dorian at Palo Verde, you coach them and you can teach them but there’s a point with those guys where instinct takes over,” Klassen said. “They just do it. Girls are a little different I’ve found. They’re more black and white, X and O.

“If I show them a play, they are going to look to pass to that person. It does not matter if they are open or not because that’s the play. Boys can adjust faster on the fly. I’ve always stressed with these Rattlers girls, and they do such a great job of it, just basketball IQ. You have to see, (and) you have to hear the game.”

Klassen’s commitment to the development of girl’s hoops in Tucson goes beyond his coaching days at Fickett Middle School, Palo Verde and Pima. He started the Tucson Rattlers in the summer of 2008, when only eight players comprised the whole program.

Now, the Tucson Rattlers have four teams — 17U, 16U, 15U and 13U — and an accomplished coaching staff that consists of longtime associates of Klassen’s and former players of the program.

Keeping within the family atmosphere, his wife, Katie, a certified personal trainer, is the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Many of the players train with her weekly at Amped Fitness, where she is part of the training staff.

“We’ve been blessed to have 34 girls come through the Rattlers since 2011 and sign college scholarships at all levels, D-, D-II, JUCO,” Klassen said. “We’re really proud about that. It doesn’t matter what level it is, our goal is to get girls into college whether it’s JUCO, D-III, NAIA, D-II, D-I … I mean we’ve had them in all areas and that’s just the goal.

“Every girl who comes into our organization has a chance to play at the next level because we have a lot of great connections.”

The 17U team features standouts such as Dorroh, Nicholson (working her way back from a knee injury suffered in the first game of Catalina Foothills’ season in November), Ironwood Ridge’s Natalie Bartle, Cienega’s Lauren Green, Nalin Martinez and NaKeva Mack, Walden Grove’s Briana Gamillo, Palo Verde’s Aaliyah Ortiz, CDO’s Shay Lopez, and Marana’s Baylee Slaughter.

“There are a couple of other (AAU) teams that have solid players,” Klassen said. “But as a whole organization, maybe I’m biased, but I think we have the best collection of Southern Arizona players.

“We really utilize them all to where maybe Natalie scores 20 this game, maybe Kiya scores 20 next game and then Lauren scores 20 the game after. You look at our Web site, our season stat leaders, our starting five is all between 6, 7, 8, 10 points (a game).

“There’s no me, me, me selfish type of basketball. When someone is hot, we feed the hot hand. That fluctuates game to game. That’s something our organization prides itself on, that family atmosphere. Everybody has a chance to showcase their skills in front of all these college coaches.”

Approximately 20 to 30 college coaches from all levels have watched the Tucson Rattlers play in each of their games in Las Vegas. The team flies tomorrow to Chicago after their championship game in the Las Vegas Invitational to participate in the Nike Tournament of Champions from Monday through Wednesday.

The Rattlers trailed 21-3 in the first quarter of their first game in Las Vegas against In the Family (Ind.) and rallied to win 59-57. They went on to win their next three games by scores of 59-28, 73-39 and 74-12.


Tucson Rattlers went 4-0 in their pool play. They take on the California Sparks National team, which went 4-0 in their pool, in the title game today at 1:50 p.m. at Canyon Springs High School.

Tucson Rattlers 59, In the Family (Ind.) 57
Top three scorers:
Natalie Bartle (Ironwood Ridge) 20 points, Aaliah Ortiz (Palo Verde) 8 and Kiya Dorroh (Tanque Verde) 7
Top three rebounders:
Lauren Green (Cienega) 8, Natalie Bartle 7 and Kiya Dorroh 5
Top three assists:
Aaliah Ortiz 3, NaKeva Mack (Cienega) 2 and three with 1.

Tucson Rattlers 59, California Sparks Extreme 28
Top three scorers:
Natalie Bartle 17 points, Baylee Slaughter (Marana) 9, Kiya Dorroh 7 and Lauren Green 7
Top three rebounders:
Briana Gamillo (Walden Grove) 9, Lauren Green 8, Baylee Slaughter 7 and NaKeva Mack 7
Top three assists:
Aaliah Ortiz 4, Natalie Bartle 3 and NaKeva Mack 3

Tucson Rattlers 73, High Desert (Calif.) Stars 39
Top three scorers:
Baylee Slaughter 16, Natalie Bartle 12 and Shay Lopez (Canyon del Oro) 10
Top three rebounders:
Natalie Bartle 8, Lauren Green 8 and Briana Gamillo 6
Top three assists:
Aaliah Ortiz 6, Natalie Bartle 4 and Kiya Dorroh 3

Tucson Rattlers 74, Central (Colo.) Warriors 12
Top three scorers:
Natalie Bartle 16, Kiya Dorroh 12, Aaliah Ortiz 11 and Lauren Green 11
Top three rebounders:
Lauren Green 6, Shay Lopez 4 and Aaliah Ortiz 4
Top three assists:
Kiya Dorroh 3, Natalie Bartle 3 and three with 2


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.


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