Marcus Ramirez sat on the end of the bench watching his teammates struggle to slow down one of the state's dynamic basketball players as he took control down the stretch.

By the time it ended Jahii Carson and Mesa knocked out the Pride as the Arizona State recruit finished with 37 points in a 72-66 win in the state quarterfinals.

The hardest part was Ramirez could only offer support - or maybe one of his crutches - in trying to stop Carson. The good thing is it made one thing clear for the now senior Mountain Pointe guard.

"It made me work harder because I didn't want to feel that helpless again," Ramirez said. "Maybe I could have made a little bit of a difference. It just made me work harder."

The Pride lost 10 seniors from last year's squad, but they get back a healthy Ramirez, who had right knee surgery the first week of February to cut his junior season short.

Ramirez, a 6-foot-3, 170-pounder, has been cleared to play for about month and has been coming along during the team's summer tournaments.

"I am happy to be back out there," he said. "Everyone said there was going to be some mental stuff to get over, but I was ready to go. The surgery is in the back of your mind, but I don't think I let it bother me once I got back on the court."

He is expected to be a senior captain who brings a team-first, defensive-minded approach that should blossom offensively with a boatload of talent having graduated.

"Marcus is a huge part of what we hope to do and he is going to be one of our leaders," Mountain Pointe coach Brian Fleming said. "When he was out we lost a little something, but he is looking pretty good so far."

Ramirez has been playing out of position because most of the team's big men - Kenny Lacey and Thair Blakes - had not been around much until last week's Mesa PrimeTime tournament, where the Pride went 2-2 as last minute fill-ins, at Red Mountain because of football commitments.

It may end up being a blessing because he hasn't had to guard wing players on the perimeter, putting undue pressure on the knee early in his comeback, and has shown the ability to play different positions to those who count.

"Some of the coaches (mostly Division II colleges) have noticed that and we're glad to see he could play multiple positions," Fleming said. "He missed important time and this has been a chance to change that. (Playing out of position) may end being a good thing for him."

Now that he is back and playing well, it is easy to forget that the recoup time wasn't always smooth. He fought through the rehab with his usual toughness, but he admits he thought about how he'd fit back into the team.

"I wondered if they'd even want me out there," he said. "They practiced and played without me for so long that they'd be wondering what I am doing out (on the court) with them."

Sophomore Jalen Brown said there shouldn't have been any concern on Ramirez's part.

"He is a good player who likes to play tough defense and we need that," said Brown, who along with Ramirez were the team's best defenders last season. "We work well together and he is one of the leaders on the team."

Ramirez averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds last season and it wouldn't be surprising to see his scoring double next season with Jerome Garrison and Tylor Wimbish off to Grand Canyon University and Mesa Community College, respectively.

Last year's roster had just two seniors, with reserve Cameron Gaskin being the other, so the makeup of the team will be determined during the summer and having Ramirez back is vital.

"With so many players gone we are going to be a whole new team," Ramirez said. "As a senior it is part of my responsibility to make sure we come together and it's a lot easier to do that on the floor."

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