Aaron Windler and Jaysie Chambers Sheppard each took over successful basketball teams but are finding their respective programs a little different than expected.
It hasn’t stopped their willingness to teach, inspire and compete.
They’ve just had to adjust.
Chambers Sheppard assumed when she took over the girls program at Desert Vista that coaching in Arizona, a place where people walk around with bottles of water mainly because it has been in a drought for 15 years, would bring a different approach to the game.
“It’s about changing the mentality to where they have a thirst for the game,” she said. “I came from a background where we want to be hooping all day and not goofing around. My expectations are very high and it is about changing their mentality.”
It just might be getting there.
After losing their first two games, the Thunder won three in a row before losing on Friday to Chandler. She is hardly satisfied — “just because you won by a blowout doesn’t mean you played well” — as the season enters the tournament portion of the schedule.
Desert Vista, which had won at least 18 games in five of the last six years, will play in the Nike Tournament of Champions next week and try to defend their title in the Northwest Desert Classic after Christmas.
It will be a good test to see how much the team can buy in to Chambers Sheppard up-temo style without worrying about power point rankings.
The players are probably tired of hearing their coach tell them to keep pushing the ball but that’s what the former WNBA and European professional player believes where the ultimate game lies.
“We are getting there,” she said. “It’s a change, but there is no reason to run a play. It’s still transition. Where I come from I had to tell them to slow down because that’s the way we played, but now I am always telling them it’s still transition. We are pressing all game, too.
“It’s adjusting to the style and the work ethic it takes to get it done. I want to get to the point where we have no mercy (on their opponent). We want to be able run everyone into the ground.”
The Thunder players are still finding their roles, especially with junior point guard Emily Wolph out with a concussion. It opened up more playing time for Ally Kennedy and Janae Martin, while Kyle Butler and Kristine Anigwe have continued to grow.
Senior Jayla Brown and sophomore Alexis Barfield are the right players for Chambers Sheppard’s system as well.
“We have all of talent you could want, Division I (college) players, but until we come together as a team we won’t get there,” the coach said. “Once we understand that everything will work out.”
Windler has had a rougher go as the Mountain Pointe boys coach in his first three weeks of running the program.
The struggles, of course, started long before their first game of the year. The former Chaparral coach took over the program expecting to have four quality players in Khari Holloway, Tre Campbell, Austin Witherill and Jalen Brown.
By the time first week of practice came around only Holloway was at practice with Witherill transferring to Highland, Brown deciding to forgo basketball all together to concentrate on football, and Campbell missing time as the Pride football program made a run to the state title game.
“Clearly the roster is different and it’s a work in progress,” Windler said. “They are really good kids and we will get there. I don’t want to be peaking in December. We are working through things so we can peak at the end of the season.”
Campbell is back and finding his basketball legs while Holloway is playing at a high level.
The Pride lost its first three games — mainly because of missed free throws and turnovers — before taking on Maricopa Tuesday.
Mountain Pointe has a light schedule before taking off for Kentucky for the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic. Windler scheduled it thinking he was going to have a more experienced roster than the one he is taking with him as the Pride takes on Trinity Catholic, a perennial Kentucky power, in the opener on Dec. 20.
The good thing is Mountain Pointe has mostly practice days between now and then.
“We can work on things and get on the same page,” Windler said. “The talent is still there, but we are relying on players who went from secondary players to starters. It’s early. This time together will benefit everyone.”
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