The change was subtle but something Khari Holloway felt needed to be done.
He changed his uniform number to No. 1 from 23 for his senior year in basketball for Mountain Pointe.
“It was basically because my goal was to be a No. 1 seed at state and to play like a No. 1 player,” Holloway said. “It was a reminder of what we needed to do to get there.”
While the first part of it didn’t come true, he and the Pride nearly did knock off the state’s No. 1 team in Corona del Sol in the second of the Division I state tournament if it wasn’t for the heroics of Casey Benson, the Tribune’s player of the year.
There was no question about part two as he was the Pride’s top player on his way to 1,000 career points by averaging 19.0 points, 4.0 points, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 assists to be named honorable mention All-Tribune.
“I didn’t know about the 1,000 points because all I cared about was scoring just enough for my team to win,” he said.
It just wasn’t enough against Benson and usually isn’t as many teams have found out over the last two years.
Every time an opposing coach schemes to stop Benson from driving left, wry smiles from a knowing few pop up across the gym, because arguably the most well-known boys basketball player in the East Valley has a secret.
The Corona del Sol junior point guard fires jump shots left-handed, and he shoots them well. His last-second overtime three-pointer in the Aztecs’ second-round playoff game against Mountain Pointe saved the season.
Not many realize, though, that it is not his dominant hand.
When the Aztecs star was only 2 years old, his father, Tim, taught him to shoot lefty, and to this day, the only other thing Benson does left-handed is play pool. That’s why it’s such a common sight to see him finish at the rim with right-handed lay-ups or floaters.
And while switch-hitting in baseball is a common theme, switch-shooting hasn’t exactly caught on.
“Everybody always thinks I’m so weird because of it,” Casey said.
However, it’s worked to his advantage on the court. When opponents guard a southpaw, they naturally force him right, which, of course, plays directly into Benson’s strengths.
“When people watch him play, they say, ‘Don’t let him go left,’” Tim Benson said. “I just laugh. You should let him go left.”
Whether it was shooting left-handed from afar, righty from in close or using both hands to make a pass, Benson went from promising sophomore a year ago to full-blown superstar this season.
He averaged 20.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game to earn the Tribune’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
Despite the graduation of shooting guard Calaen Robinson, power forward Avery Moss and center Andrus Peat from last year’s title-team, Benson took over and led the Aztecs to a 29-4 record and a repeat Division I state championship.
“It meant a great amount, obviously,” Benson said. “People kind of picked against us sometimes, but we had confidence in ourselves, and that’s all that mattered.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Jason P. Skoda contributed to this story.
All-Tribune First Team
Name School Pos. Yr. Comment
Casey Benson Corona del Sol G Jr. POY averaged 20.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals, led Aztecs to title
Dorian Pickens Pinnacle F Jr. Averaged 17.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 steals, shot 55 percent for D1 runners-up
Paul Watson Paradise Valley F Sr. Averaged 21 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.8 steals, shot 55% for D2 champs
Payton Dastrup Mountain View F Jr. Big-time prospect averaged 18.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks
Jake Toolson Highland F Jr. BYU commit averaged 18.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals, shot 54%
Player of the Year: Casey Benson, Corona del Sol
Coach of the Year: Sam Duane, Corona del Sol — Led Aztecs to repeat despite lower expectations following the graduation of three standout players.
All-Tribune Second Team
Name School Pos. Yr. Comment
Rolando Rhymes Desert Mountain G Jr. Cat-quick facilitator averaged 15.1 points, 4.5 assists, 2.1 steals
Jaron Hopkins Dobson F Sr. Colorado commit averaged 22.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 49 % FG
Tim Kempton Brophy F Sr. Averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds per game; committed to Lehigh
Jordan Howard Perry G Jr. Led East Valley in scoring at 25.6 points per contest, added 1.4 steals, shot 48%
Sam Jones Gilbert Christian F Jr. Averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds for D3 champs; shot 54% from field, 42% from 3
Honorable mention (locals only)
Desert Vista: Greg Carter, Sr., G; Kyle Pitman, Sr., G; Mountain Pointe: Khari Holloway, Sr., G; Chris Davis, Jr., F.