Summer high school basketball leagues time for reserves to hone game as much as starters

Steve Botkin is entering his 29th year as a head coach (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Three of Salpointe’s starters last season — juniors Taliyah Henderson, Hannah Williams and Allison Even — trained on their own Monday night while other members of the Lancer varsity team played Sahuaro in the Flowing Wells Summer League.

The Cougars were without one of their best players — senior forward Ny’Anza Brown — who was taking part in a family reunion in Mississippi.

Prospective high school basketball referees, including former Mica Mountain football standout Kaspen Colbert — are being trained during these games.

This is summertime, when high school basketball coaches try to make the most of their lineups from the 12th player on the freshman team to the top reserve playing at the varsity level.

Everybody gets their minutes.

“You want to get everybody playing time and you want to get minutes going for your starters, get that chemistry going, so it’s good,” said Sahuaro coach Steve Botkin, who will coach his 29th season as a head coach this winter.

Sahuaro vs. Salpointe in January and February generally has plenty of meaning between the 4A Kino rivals.

The Cougars playing the Lancers in June is not nearly intense, but the games are competitive nonetheless.

Botkin’s team overcame a 13-point deficit in the first half to beat Salpointe 34-32 at the Flowing Wells Summer League.

Cassie Coolidge, a senior who has played significant minutes since her freshman season, is another coach on the floor for Botkin. She engineered the rally, and while doing so, gathered her team together often to speak with them.

When Botkin tended to an injured player, Coolidge formed a huddle with her teammates to keep them focused — another bonus of these summer games, providing opportunities for players to establish themselves as new captains.

“I’ve always wanted to be a coach, actually,” Coolidge said. “I think I’m getting into the transition of what to say to the girls, like what I can say. I want to be a leader for this team this year. I’m still learning from these girls every day. I have so much to learn.

“We were down big so I just wanted to regroup them and say, ‘We got this.’ I know we’re tired, but we got this.'”

This is Coolidge’s team now after playing with UNLV junior forward Alyssa Brown and recently graduated Nelly Ponds and AJ Bonaparte.

“Just starting my freshman year with Alyssa Brown, I was afraid to take a layup on her,” Coolidge said. “It’s just amazing seeing her play at UNLV and getting to say that I played with her. AJ and Nelly Ponds, they’re just amazing, and they’re playing at a community college now.

“I hope to achieve that goal, too, so that’s really nice. I miss them a lot. It definitely helps having them here. In this kind of a rebuilding season, we have one of the best coaches — the best coach — in Tucson to do it, so I think it’s going to be pretty good for us this year.”

Botkin, 54, has the most coaching victories in Southern Arizona girls basketball history with a 614-195 record. He is 507-129 at Sahuaro entering his 23rd year there. In a six-year stint at Rincon/University to begin his coaching career, he was 107-66.

As the athletic director at Sahuaro, he operates the school’s annual summer league that has games Tuesdays and Thursdays. Flowing Wells’ league is on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Coaching a younger team now, with seniors such as Coolidge, Ny’Anza Brown and Kristen Valdez stepping up to fill the void left by Bonaparte and Ponds from last season, Botkin has experienced many teaching opportunities this month.

“They were kind of getting a little bit down (against Salpointe on Monday),” Botkin said. “That was the first time I’ve seen them get down this summer in terms of getting down, not on each other but on themselves.

“I just told them, ‘I’m not that coach who’s going to scream at you. I’m not that coach who’s going to yell at you. If you make a mistake, all I care about is hustle. Just hustle back and everything will get better. That’s all we’ve got to do.’ I noticed in the second half there was a lot more hustling back on defense and get between man and ball, because we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half.”

To access the Flowing Wells Summer League schedule, click here.


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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