Hosea Graham has a smooth stride these days.
The new Mountain Pointe boys basketball coach is feeling and looking good as he reacquaints himself with the players, the program and its people.
“It’s like I never left,” he said last week. “It feels like I put on a pair of great shoes that are so comfortable that I haven’t worn in awhile. I found them in the closet again and I am wearing them with my best suits.
“The community, the parents and administration have given me great, positive feedback.”
Graham takes over the program one year after stepping down as the junior varsity coach when he didn’t get the job at Mountain Pointe when Aaron Windler was hired in March of 2012. Graham left for Westwood where he led the Warriors to a 10-17 record last season.
Now, he is back in a place that he never wanted to leave in the first place.
The players are excited to have back the man who guided most of these players when they were cutting their teeth on the junior varsity team in 2011-12 season. The difference being is the players are now heading into their senior year and are the leaders of the program.
“We were all happy he was named coach,” senior-to-be Danny Sullivan said. “We know each other and it is going to make everything easier. There really isn’t much of a transition because it is almost like he never left.”
Graham, who had a record of 243-64 in 12 years at Seton Catholic before stepping down in 2007, hosted a camp for fifth-graders up to high school-aged kids recently and had a great turnout.
It was a lead up to the varsity’s first outing of the summer as the Pride entered two teams in a tournament at Grand Canyon last weekend. The varsity team went 6-1 to give Graham his first chance to really evaluate his players under game conditions.
“For me it’s a good opportunity to see their basketball IQ and the adjustments I need to make in my teaching methods,” he said. “When I teach a kid and he doesn’t get it, I look at myself and how, maybe, I am not teaching this particular kid the way I need to.
“This weekend (was) a good calibration to see if our teaching is getting through. I know the effort is going to be there. That’s minimum requirement right now for this program. We have kids out here busting their butts and they want to be part of the program.”
Graham, who brought in brother-in-law Doug Harris, the former state winning coach at Desert Vista, as his assistant, has an approach to coaching that is more about nurture than tension-filled tantrums.
“I create a positive environment whether it is practice or games,” he said. “Kids are going to make mistakes and I try to make those learning opportunities. I am not a screamer and an in-your-face kind of guy. My job as a coach is to make sure if a kid can’t execute a particular skill set then don’t put them in that situation.
“If a player is a defender I am going to beef him up and tell him he can do it, and guess what? He is going to go out and tear it up. It is the physiological part of having kids perform within their skill set. If you start that in the summer, then continue it during preseason practice, everyone is participating and they understand their roles. Then they feel like they are contributing and when that happens then you have a true team when the games start.”
While that time is far off, Graham feels he has the right mix of athletes to play the game the way he wants. It starts with defense, setting defensive traps nearly every possession, and pushing the ball up the court in three seconds and putting up a quality shot soon thereafter.
The Pride has several players coming back from last year’s 14-13 squad that was better down the stretch than the record would indicate. They lost in three overtimes to eventual state champion Corona del Sol in the second round of the Division I playoffs.
“We had that game but let them win,” forward Chris Davis said. “It showed us what we are capable of when we are playing together.”
Joining Davis as the core for next year will be Dominic Reyes, Isaiah Ledford, Tyree Shivers, LaVonte Benford, Khalil Salahuddin, Sullivan and possibly football player Emmanuel Butler, who hopes to receive a Division I scholarship as a wide receiver, but is still waiting for the first one.
The Pride also has a couple of newcomers including 6-foot-1 Montrail Johnson, who has spent time at Mountain Pointe and South Mountain, but is now back with the Pride program.
“He is an amazing athlete,” Graham said. “There is something special about that kid. He is an uncanny athlete. I am not saying he is a DI player, but he is going to play in college.”
It adds up to positive vibes as the summer progresses before things start getting serious in October and beyond.
“That’s the plan right now and they are looking really good,” Graham said. “We are putting in the pressure defense and conditioning them to believe our defense is our offense. It’s a shame on us if our kids are not prepared. Besides having the identity of being a tenacious defensive team we will be known as a team that is always prepared.”
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