Marty Roth and Marvin Beckwith are stepping away and arriving at the same time.
They are leaving the traditional high school sense of coaching basketball into a realm they believe will become more the norm than the exception.
They are entering the prep basketball world as coaches of the newly-formed Southern Arizona Volunteers.
“This whole concept or even the thought of something like this didn’t appeal to me at first,” said Roth, who coached at Palo Verde and Amphi as an assistant before making Sabino one of the state’s top teams with Beckwith as his lead assistant.
Roth and Beckwith, his assistant with the Sabercats the last six years, were set to coach at new Vail high school Mica Mountain. They were hired in March to make that move.
But that was before Roth had a conversation with the late Brian Lee, a pastor at Roth’s place of worship, Elements City Church. Lee, a former Rincon/University baseball standout, passed away in late July after an accident that caused a brain injury.
“Brian approached me with the discussion about how we could diversify income revenue streams into the church and serve the community,” Roth said. “I told him my background is basketball, and every place I’ve been when running a program, part of high school coaching is also the business of high school basketball. One thing we know how to do is produce income with a basketball organization.
“And then as that conversation progressed, I came to realize prep basketball is throughout California, there’s 15 to 18 teams in Phoenix and Las Vegas is loaded with it. We have over 1 million people in Tucson and there is not any. Idea and opportunity came together and that’s where we’re at with this.”
The Volunteers — named as such to signify how the program will be involved with local charitable efforts — will operate as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization.
They will play at LEAD Athletics (4750 S. Irvington Road). The players will attend their high schools and practice and compete at LEAD this season.
Roth mentioned the organization is in the closing process to acquire land and buildings that will include the campus for educational classes starting in 2021-22. The facility will include gymnasiums with state-of-the-art LED lighted flooring.
This will be Tucson’s effort of a Montverde (Fla.) Academy, IMG Academy at Bradenton, Fla., and Oak Hill Academy at Mouth of Wilson, Va.
Roth and Beckwith believe some of the best prospects in the nation will come to Tucson to take part in games and tournaments hosted by the Volunteers.
“Now it will be a case of giving that high-level opportunity to all kids instead of just a small selective group of kids, and letting them go out there and compete,” said Beckwith, who also operates the Tucson Spartans and Arizona Select Tucson AAU teams. “If you really want to play at the next level, now you get to see all the kids in the state you’re competing with to get to that next level.”
The Volunteers, comprised of players in grades 9-12, will compete starting in October in the same league (Canyon Athletic Association) as Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix. Hillcrest has featured the likes of Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Josh Green and Class of 2020 recruit Dalen Terry.
The Volunteers expect to attract 25 to 30 players to be part of their elite and junior elite teams that will play approximately 35 games this season. A parent-player meeting will be held Thursday at LEAD Athletics at 7 p.m. to attract players (many of whom will be some of the bigger names in Southern Arizona) for upcoming tryouts.
Roth mentioned that COVID-19 safety precautions (social distancing, facemasks and hand sanitizers) will be implemented at the facility for the meeting, in subsequent workouts and during the season.
He believes the word “prep” with his organization is important in every sense of the word for young ambitious players striving to play in college and adjusting to that lifestyle before they embark on that journey.
“You may have a high school team where two or three kids are perhaps head and shoulders above the others and maybe you get their best effort on a day-to-day basis, maybe you don’t,” Roth said. “When you go on to college, you have to bring it in the weight room, you’ve got to bring it in the classroom and you’ve got to bring it on the court.
“A lot of kids aren’t ready for that. A big part of what we want to accomplish is when we call a college coach with a kid coming out of our program, they know what they’re getting. College coaches are looking for solid people, not just players. We’re going to be developing both.”
The Volunteers are eligible to play against junior college and NAIA teams, adding to the college prep status. The CAA will also use a 35-second shot clock, which will help prepare its players for the college game. The AIA does not utilize a shot clock.
The Volunteers will resemble a college operation with their projected strength and conditioning program. Roth’s son, Zach, an Amphi graduate, is the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Temple. He will serve as a consultant for the Volunteers.
“I sent a video of our weight room to my son, and he’s personally going to be putting together, with our schedule, the workouts,” the elder Roth said. “He’s on the research end of strength and conditioning, so the program we’re putting in place will be second to none.”
Roth also mentioned similar to college coaches such as Sean MIller, his coaching philosophy will stress man-to-man defense, which generally is not utilized as much as zone-defense principles at the high school level.
“We break down the nth degree man-to-man defense,” Roth said. “You will learn how to play team man-to-man pressure defense with us. When our kids at Sabino have moved on to the college level and transitioned to a zone, it has been relatively simple for them.
“But if you’re coming from zone concepts in high school and now you’re going to college and you’re trying to learn man-to-man, you’re a year behind the curve. A lot of our kids when they come out of our program are in great shape to learn right now.”
Roth and Beckwith addressed various aspects of their operation that may draw questions.
The traditional system allows for a state playoff with a championship game usually at a larger arena than of a high school. Last season, the AIA staged the state championships of most of the classifications at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at Phoenix. Roth and Beckwith coached Sabino to the 3A state title game there in February.
The Volunteers will play in a regional tournament involving programs from California, Nevada and Arizona with the championship played at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the Phoenix Suns play.
“The fear for the high school kids when we talked about this was them not getting the experience to be on the bus with the team, go to the state playoffs, etc.,” Beckwith said. “At Sabino last year, we kept a photo of where we lost at so every time they came in and out of the locker room they would see that picture. Our goal was to get back there and do it all over again and this time win it.
“Now the prep teams are in a division. They play each other. There is a playoffs and now you have a chance to play in a championship. Now, the kids are not going to lose that side of the experience. They have to compete at that level.”
Upset local high school coaches
To leave the opportunity to coach Mica Mountain was one of the toughest decisions Roth has made in his life, he said, because of his close and respectful relationship with principal Nemer Hassey and assistant principal Jay Campos, the former athletic director at Sabino.
Campos was coaching the Sabino football team when Roth and Beckwith were hired. Roth and Beckwith compiled a 105-67 record at Sabino, including 53-8 in the last two years. The Sabercats won a region title last season with a 10-0 record.
Roth knows he is in store for some other difficult situations with his coaching brethren in Tucson. He and Beckwith will have on their roster some of the best players in Southern Arizona who will transfer out of the local schools.
“I feel like our relationship between us and the high school coaches for many years has been good and respectful,” Roth said. “I feel that about them and what they do and respect it. If they lose a top player, they’re not going to like it and I understand that.
“You won’t ever hear us bad-mouthing any program ever. All we will talk about is what we offer because I can’t speak specifically to other programs and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. But when we have the top talent in town, and you’re looking to have to compete on a night-in, night-out basis in the weight room and on the court, that emulates what a college life is about. It’s not a case if you’re the top two kids on a team in high school practice, unless you have a coach that’s barking and cracking the whip, your coasting can turn into the norm.”
The most significant knock on charter schools or academies geared toward basketball is the academics.
For example, Hillcrest Prep came under scrutiny when it originally used for its classes StarShine Academy, which failed an eligibility audit by the NCAA. Arizona Connections, Hillcrest’s current academic affiliation, apparently does meet all NCAA criteria for non-traditional coursework.
Roth envisions an academic program similar to Oak Hill Academy, which offers core courses taught by certified faculty on campus.
“For the kids who struggle with math and English, we’re going to bring in some help because this is all a part of what are you looking to accomplish beyond high school,” Roth said. “Learning the discipline and what it takes, the price to pay. If you struggle with academics, you just have to work harder. That’s what it will have to take.”
Postgrad and Girls Programs
Roth and Beckwith have already received inquiries about when a similar girls prep team will be established in Tucson.
Former Sabino girls basketball coaches Jaamal Rhodes and Jeremy Daniels left the program after leading the Sabercats to a 3A state title last season to coach at AZ Compass, a prep school in Chandler. They took with them Sabino standout seniors Kiya Dorroh and Kamryn Doty and junior Kam’Ren Rhodes.
Roth and Beckwith have also been asked about a postgrad prep program in which high school graduates can play a year to develop their game and academics further before moving on to college. Pima Community College coach Brian Peabody has in the past operated a postgrad prep program out of the West Campus.
“Let’s get past this first year and learn and also get the kinks worked out first,” Roth said. “You don’t want to lose any piece of the core of what we’re about and the integrity of what we’re doing.
“We’ve been high school coaches for many years. We certainly are not trying to get rich. The integrity and purity of what we’re doing is very important. We have to develop a base for that first.”
Roth mentions often that he is from “small-town Ohio” to make it clear that he is not about the glitz and glamour of some in his position who may try to use kids to gain fame and fortune.
He and Beckwith talked about having Nike, adidas or Under Armour provide workout clothes and uniforms — “swag” is the terminology used by kids these days — for the delight of the players, not for their monetary gain.
“From my background coming from Ohio, the romance of high school sports, and the tradition of it, is ingrained in me,” Roth said. “For me, the last 18 to 19 years, it’s been about building a program and building a following within a community campus.
“That has shifted a little bit. The loyalty and community pride of a neighborhood, or even the town, the student turnout, it’s just different …. it’s a different world. We’re ready to make the most of this. This isn’t something we’re trying out. We’re doing this.”
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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.