Like most club-basketball summer teams, Arizona Divinity’s 14-and-under squad, with several Desert Vista prospects, plays tournaments nearly every weekend.
It can wear on young players, even those who see their share of success by often playing deep into competitions. Focus can wander. It’s good preparation for the grind they face if they continue to the next level.
So guard Daylin Martin, 14, said Divinity’s recent success in the Grassroots 365 Invitational: Southwest 2018 basketball tournament in Avondale was a confidence booster for the group.
Arizona Divinity went undefeated and won the championship game by 34 points. It felt good, Martin said, but they’d done it in tournaments many times before.
What was significant was progress the team showed and how it managed the grind this time.
“Now we’re playing together and as a team,” Martin said. “We swung the ball, weren’t arguing and everyone played their part.”
There were times when it didn’t come as easily for Divinity. Coach Devon Speaks said the season, which began after high school and junior high competition wrapped up, started rocky. Divinity came up short in several tournaments, losing to teams the players believed they should have beaten.
That wasn’t the case when Divinity put the hammer down on Blue Chip Nation Elite with a 63-29 victory in the June 17 title game in Avondale.
At such a young age, having not yet donned the jersey of their eventual high school teams, winning is not the only goal for Divinity’s players. They still have a lot to improve in their games and in building strength and basketball intelligence.
Thus, Speaks puts emphasis on not only strategy, but on conditioning, especially for late-game situations.
“We run a lot and do a lot of plays, so then we have energy late in the tournaments. Coach does a lot of fourth-quarter or overtime stuff where we have to have the conditioning to be ready for those situations so we don’t get tired,” Martin said.
Speaks said summer club play is a great opportunity for players to continue to improve. He encourages players to get out to high school open gyms and play pickup basketball for fun to develop their individual skills.
“Their goal is to get themselves into what they call a ‘baller state of mind,’ where they’re not scared of the moment or the competition. They just go out there and compete and play their hardest,” Speaks said. “And then their conditioning is good enough that they can be ready at the end of close games and still play their hardest.”
Divinity dominated the Avondale championship game throughout, especially on the defensive end, where it had an advantage in size and athleticism at nearly every position. The team’s length and strength in on-ball defense made it difficult for opponents to dribble anywhere near the basket, and offense came easily off steals and running in transition. Blue Chip Nation Elite scored just eight points in the first half.
Divinity continued attacking, competing on defense and securing easy baskets on layups resulting from steals.
“It’s a lot easier because we’ve been in this position and lost these games because we thought we were going to walk in and win easily,” Speaks said.
“So, they’ve improved in the last few months in closing games out and closing tournaments out that they know they should win. I try to remind them of the days we’d give these games up and they’re at the point where they don’t want to do that anymore.