The first prep basketball organization of its kind in Southern Arizona held a meeting with parents and prospective players Thursday night at LEAD Athletics to discuss the program in its first season that starts next month.
Southern Arizona Volunteers coaches and organizers Marty Roth and Marvin Beckwith, both of whom led Sabino’s program to the 3A state title game in February, hosted approximately 70 people in the courtyard outside of the LEAD gymnasium.
The first tryouts for the elite team and two junior elite teams are Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at LEAD.
Roth’s replacement as head coach at Sabino — Daryl Jones — may join the Volunteers’ staff rather than coach the Sabercats. Roth added that at least three local high school coaches have expressed interest of joining the Volunteers’ staff. Jones was in attendance Thursday.
Jones, who coached the 2019-20 season at Tucson High and was selected the AZPreps365 Region Coach of the Year, will decide by Sunday his direction.
“With COVID-19 going on and not sure what the AIA is going to do, and being with Marty and Marvin, who are great guys — Marty has a Christian background similar to me — it seems like it could be the best thing for me,” Jones said. “I might try to do both (coach Sabino and with the Volunteers). I have to talk with the (Sabino) AD (Kyle Howell) and come to a decision over the weekend.
“It will have to be a commitment from me, a full-on commitment. As you know, I’m committed to basketball. I don’t know yet.”
Some of the known players who will try out for the Volunteers include Baboquivari sophomore guard Kota Benson, Catalina Foothills senior forward Lual Deng, Amphi senior guard Ethan Hitchings, Tucson High senior guards Kaden Luna and Yahir Garcia, Nogales senior guard Steven Legleu, Sabino junior guard Elijah De Altonaga and Rincon/University senior guard Bishar Mohamed.
Roth and Beckwith anticipate as many as 30 to 40 players to be part of their three elite and junior elite teams. The players, in grades 9-12 who make the teams, will attend their own high school and then practice and play for the Volunteers. They are unable play for both their high school and the Volunteers.
“There’s a lot of talent here and there’s a lot of volume here,” Roth said. “We’ll see what happens but it will grow before Tuesday. There are definitely players here who will catch peoples’ eye at the next level. No doubt about it.”
Roth and Beckwith are open to players joining the organization as time goes on especially if the AIA cancels or postpones the basketball season because of COVID-19 concerns.
“We right now are in a position with three experienced high school coaches (including potentially Jones) that will do a great job with their teams — we have three teams — and expanding beyond that, I’ve got some people who are inquiring about being involved,” Roth said. “It’s just simply going to come down to gym space for practice.
“I’ve already talked to the Phoenix organizations. For instance, the PHH Fire prep team has five teams. Taylor Made has four teams. I can take as many teams as I want to the major tournaments and kids are going to play.”
Beckwith mentioned it will be difficult to add and subtract players later if the AIA decides to cancel or postpone basketball, but he indicated that new teams can be created to allow players roster spots.
“If those kids come, it will have to be on a totally separate team no matter their talent because by then we would have already created a group,” Beckwith said. “I personally believe that is what could happen, but it’s a good thing to have if it does happen.”
The Volunteers will operate as a non-profit organization. The nickname comes from the plan that the organization will volunteer its time to help various charity organizations at events locally.
Roth told the parents the cost for their son to join is $1,800 with that going to travel expenses, gymnasium space, tournaments, training equipment, food and nutrition and tutoring services in case the players need help with their math and English.
“We believe that as we go on, this will become a tremendous value for parents,” Roth said. “This will be an incredible investment for the future of their kids on and off the court.”
— Roth added the presence of the Volunteers locally will have a wide-ranging impact on youth basketball. “I think local high school coaches will step up their game to try get the most out of their kids, and there is still a possibility the AIA will allow prep teams to compete with high schools,” he said.
— The Volunteers will host PHH Fire in late October at LEAD for their first game. They will also play high-profile program Hillcrest Prep home and away. Games played at LEAD against such prep teams will benefit Arizona coach Sean Miller and his staff to be able to view prospects without having to travel.
— Roth said that prep baseball programs have contacted him to form a partnership. He also mentioned that girls prep and postgrad prep basketball programs are potentially in the plans beyond this season.
— He reiterated to parents that land that will include classrooms, a cafeteria and two gyms is in the process of being acquired by the Volunteers. Operations at the facility would begin for the 2021-22 season.
— The academic model this school year includes tutoring help. Roth mentioned that he will not know the grades of the players unless the parents are forthcoming. Eligibility would be based on trust with the parent and player.
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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.