It was a goal of both teams as the season started. They knew they had the talent and work ethic to get there, but they just needed to prove it during the season. And they have.
On Saturday, both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high school boys basketball teams received top-five seeds in the 6A State Tournament and will look to make a run to the state championship over the next two weeks.
Their journeys to this point have been somewhat different.
No. 5 Mountain Pointe Pride will play No. 12 Skyline in the first round of the tournament.
The Pride was somewhat a surprise this year, under first-year head coach Duane Eason, who came to Mountain Pointe after one year at Phoenix College. After re-establishing a winning culture, Eason and the Pride took the 6A by storm through the first few weeks of the season.
With an intense full-court press and a deep lineup that saw almost 10 players hit the hardwood every night, the Pride pressured their opponents into submission all season. Eason instilled a mentality that it didn’t matter if they had the best player on the court because they would have the best 10.
And his players accepted that mentality as they climbed the ranks.
Their only falter early in the season came in a one-point loss to No. 1 Brophy Prep, a team that had eight victories of five points or less. Most of those victories came over some of the top teams in the state like Pinnacle, Hamilton, and Perry.
A one-point loss early in the season usually isn’t anything to worry about, but the Pride used that loss as motivation, snapping off 16 straight victories from Nov. 30 to Jan. 23, capturing the McClintock Holiday Shootout trophy as well.
Their streak came to an end when Desert Vista’s Tyrek Chambers hit a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer to hand the Pride their second loss of the season.
All season long, the Pride has been led by junior guard Khalid Price and senior guard Amarion Cash. The guards have been averaging 13.4 and 14.3 points, respectively, and Price has been commanding the offense, averaging almost five assists.
While the exceptional play of the two guards has been crucial, Jalen Graham (11.4 points, 9.4 rebounds), Ryan Pate (9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds), and Deandre Henry (6.9 points, 6.9 rebounds) have all played crucial roles as well.
Their regular-season run ended with a 68-59 loss to No. 10-seeded Gilbert, which dropped them to the No. 5 in the 6A tournament.
The loss could come as a wakeup call for Mountain Pointe as they enter the postseason with a first-round matchup against Skyline, and it looks as though they might match up with the No. 5 Hamilton in the second round.
Either way, Eason and his team have established something special on the hardwood at Mountain Pointe and with a slew of young talent it doesn’t seem like it will be stopping anytime soon.
Last season, the Thunder fell in the semi-finals to eventual state champion Basha by five points. Although Desert Vista lost a few key players, second-year head coach Gino Crump and the Thunder reloaded for a state championship run this season.
They’ve been strong all season long but had a growing period early on as newcomers had to become integrated into the system and the players had to mesh as the season went on. It showed in their early-season overtime loss to Mountain Pointe, but they got their revenge in the second meeting of the season.
Since that loss, the Thunder have won 14 of their last 15 games, losing only to Hamilton on the road on Jan. 19. They rolled through regional play to end the season and captured the 6A Central Region with a record of 9-1 compared to Mountain Pointe’s 8-2 record.
Desert Vista’s signature moment may have been that loss to Hamilton. In the next game, Chambers knocked down his buzzer-beater against Mountain Pointe and they haven’t lost since.
They’ve been paced by Chambers in the backcourt, as the junior guard from New York has been averaging 17.3 points per game this season and scored 20-plus points in seven games this season.
He’s been paired with senior guard Alijah Gammage, who’s averaging seven points a game and has provided an excellent defensive presence on the perimeter with two steals a game.
The size of Desert Vista has been one of their strong suits. With four players taller than 6-foot-5, the Thunder tower over opposing teams and have often faced zone defenses throughout the season.
At times, they have struggled shooting the ball, but the play of senior forward Wesley Harris and the emergence of senior center Christian Anigwe has propelled the Thunder into a No. 3 seed in the state tournament.
Anigwe has been huge underneath the basket, averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game while Harris has averaged 17 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. Along with the excellent play, the Thunder have been an exciting team to watch with electrifying dunks, smooth passes, and great team play.
No. 3 Desert Vista will get No. 14 Cesar Chavez, which boasted a record of 19-9 and finished the season undefeated in regional play to capture the 6A Metro crown.
With a first-round victory on Tuesday, the Thunder could set up a second meeting with top prospect Timmy Allen and the No. 6 Red Mountain Lions, who face off against No. 11 Desert Mountain.
It has been a long journey, but the journey to the state championship begins this week with the championship game on Feb. 28 at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena. Will there be a team from Ahwatukee in the final?
We’ll have to wait and find out.