Dave Williams took over the Desert Vista program before last season and promised a competitive team that has state title aspirations.
The first year went well, but in reality it was just to set the stage for the 2011-12 campaign, and it is upon us.
The Thunder won 20 games for the first time in three years, won a Las Vegas tournament and got some valuable state tournament experience before losing to top-seeded Sierra Vista Buena in the quarterfinals.
And they should only be better.
"We will be a better defensive team and have better team chemistry," Williams said. "I love our team chemistry."
The second year for a coach is usually better simply because everyone involved has a better idea of what to expect, and with the Thunder it is about discipline.
Williams spent the first year to trying to get the team to be more disciplined within his system of defense and transition. At times - like the Las Vegas Prep Tournament win - it went well, but at other times - like the 74-73 loss to Buena - he felt like it was all for naught.
This year, he hopes it all comes together because the talent is there to do something special.
"I believe we are one of the top five to 10 teams in state," Williams said. "We have a very good chance to compete for state."
It starts with the Thunder's two college committed starts in Danny Powell and Jeff Lowery, who are going to Eastern Washington and Grand Canyon, respectively.
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound small forward averaged 19.2 points and 10.5 rebounds after transferring from Mesa and shedding 40-some pounds,
He should be one of the state's top players this year and Lowery is the perfect complement. The 6-2, 185-pound guard should see his numbers (10.7 points, 2.0 steals, 1.7 assists) increase across the board.
They won't have to go it alone with 6-8 senior center KJ Hoffman, junior guard John Marshall, junior guard Greg Carter and senior guard Steve Klein.
The state tournament expands to 24 teams this year and sectional tournaments have been added. Twelve teams will qualify through the sectional tournament, as the semifinalist from the three section tourneys advance, with another 12 advancing based on power points qualify as well.
Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista are in Division I, Section III, while Horizon Honors will play in Division III, Section II.
Mountain Pointe is on the other end as the Pride is transitioning after losing 10 players to graduation.
The team went 22-8 and lost in the state quarterfinals to eventual state runner-up Mesa.
With Brian Fleming's stable coaching staff and the talent that roams the halls at Mountain Pointe, they will be fine but there will be some new faces, including transfer Jordan Bellamy, who was the starting point guard last season for North High in Phoenix.
He will mix in well with the trio of Marcus Ramirez, Khari Holloway and Jalen Brown.
Ramirez, who averaged 6.4 points last season, is a senior guard/forward who missed the end of the year because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He plays multiple positions and is the heart and soul of the team.
"He is the ultimate team player," Fleming said.
Holloway, a junior guard who averaged 8.3 points, 4.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals, started every game last season and will run the point with some shooting guard as well. Fleming said he is "pure scorer and play maker."
Brown, a sophomore guard, who dug in defensively last season, but with the departure of so many offensive weapons he will get a chance to play a prominent role on the other side of the court this year.
Other contributors will be sophomore guard Austin Witherill and 6-6 junior Kenny Lacy, who stayed out last season after transferring from Cesar Chavez.
"We will be very quick and athletic," Fleming said. "We will try and use 10 guys to wear out the opponent. We should shoot the ball well from the field due to having so many guards on the roster."
Horizon Honors is in a good place as the Eagles bring back a good contingent from last season's squad, which had its first winning season in four years as it made the postseason and finished 13-11.
"We should be well-balanced with a deep and senior-led team," second-year coach Ernest Shand said. "We have great chemistry and work ethic."
They will be led by senior forward Taylor Hudzinski, who is 40 points shy of 1,000 for his career, 6-6 senior center Tyler Popescu, who will be a down low for Division IV opponents, while senior Dominick Chavez and sophomore Jake Connell will be heavily counted-on guards.
Shand said the team has some work to do to reach the next level.
"We have to consistently play to our potential, regardless of the opponent," he said. "We have to learn to win big games and gain some playoff experience."
The Eagles will try to do that by focusing on the defensive side of the court.
"We want to use our full-court press and half-court defense to stifle teams," Shand said.
Other players who will be counted on to contribute will be junior guard Zack Taylor and junior forward Will McKenna.
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