It would be impossible to expect Avery Brunson and Chris Davis to replace the talent that left their respective programs, but they can help cushion the blow.
The Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe boys basketball programs both lost players unexpectedly this off-season for various reasons that clearly hurt depth and expectations.
Connor MacDougall and John Marshall left the Thunder, coming off a semifinal appearance, for Phoenix-based Westwind Prep, which promises national exposure with an out-of-state travel schedule, while Mountain Pointe had sharpshooter Austin Witherill transfer to Highland and athletic defensive-minded Jalen Brown decide to concentrate on football.
As often happens in Arizona high school athletics, when an opportunity is created by someone leaving for another school someone else steps in and it is not always a player who was in the program the previous season.
Brunson has found his way into the Thunder rotation after leading Marcos de Niza in scoring last year, while Davis has had a more interesting route to the Pride program.
Davis has been only a club basketball player until this year after spending time at high schools in Ohio and Mississippi before enrolling at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale.
He came to Mountain Pointe this summer and found a spot in Pride’s rotation this winter.
“I’ve never played in a high school system before so it is different,” said Davis, who is a 6-foot-6 crazy athletic junior. “Club ball is run and gun. Playing here is about team and discipline.”
Davis came off the bench on Tuesday against Marcos to provide some energy, some big rebounds, and grabbed some loose balls and there was that big dunk, his specialty (search his name on YouTube).
“He gives us some size and athletic ability,” senior guard Kari Holloway said. “He’s never played at this level and it’s a different game than club ball. He can give us a presence (in the lane) and get us going with his dunks.”
Pride coach Aaron Windler said Davis has shown some signs of understanding what it takes to play within a team concept and will only get better with time.
“It’s a work in progress,” Windler said. “When you watch him in drills he is freakishly athletic. He is 6-6 and very, very long. He can shoot it and put it on the floor, but he has never played in a structured system.
“There is unbelievable potential there, but we have to draw it out within the team concept.”
Davis averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 points through the first two games. Once he gets a comfort level within the system it will be interesting to see where those numbers go.
Brunson has plenty of high school experience after leading Marcos with 15.5 points and 53 3-pointers last year as a junior after playing in 24 games as a sophomore for the Padres.
What the 6-2 senior wing player maybe hasn’t been part of is a team that focuses so much on defense.
Thunder coach Dave Williams demands it and that approach is what got the Thunder to the semifinals last year and it is the same reason Desert Vista was 4-2 with the two defeats coming against two of the top teams in Division I.
The Thunder held Pinnacle and Corona del Sol under 70 points, but didn’t have enough offensively to finish it off. That’s where Brunson comes in.
“I think by the end of the year he will be our leading scorer,” Williams said. “He is our most dynamic player, but we do a lot of things he is not used to.”
Brunson is averaging 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds a game while coming to grips with playing on both ends of the floor. It’s not that he didn’t have to play defense at Marcos, rather defense fuels what Desert Vista is all about.
“Some schools don’t focus on defense,” Williams said. “If you don’t get on board with that you are wasting your time with us. He understands that and we are happy to have him part of this team.”
And that’s the key.
The respective coaches can’t worry about who is no longer there; only grow with the players who are standing in front of them each day in practice.
“You wish those players well and move on,” Williams said. “We have a good core of players in this program and those are the ones we have to get ready to go every day.”
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