Mohammed Saleem bet one brother instead of chasing another.
The Desert Vista tennis player had a great career as the Thunder’s No. 1 singles player the last three years and would have been a good bet to make a run at the top eight this year at the state tournament after making it to the Sweet 16 as a junior.
Instead of trying to match the state title his older brother won in 2010, Mohammed decided to see how far he could go in doubles with his freshman brother Yusef in doubles action.
“Those were big shoes to fill,” he said during the season. “I made it far (three wins) last year and needed to get better. I have, but I think we (as a doubles team) can do something special. We have good draw and it was the right decision.
“I feel more comfortable with him because we know each other’s game so well after playing as a family for so long. I’m more comfortable talking (candidly) with Yusef if I have to.”
The Saleem brothers, teammate Andy Cook and Mountain Pointe’s Seth Monty earned All-Tribune honorable mention honors.
Leading the way on the All-Trib team was Hudson Blake, who became the first Brophy tennis player to win the singles state championship in 16 years.
In October 2009, Blake bought his first racket.
It’s called being a “late bloomer,” but in this case, Blake not only bloomed as a tennis player, he blossomed.
Years of competitive baseball, and, until his freshman year, football, groomed his eye-hand coordination and athleticism. The now cast-aside sports also groomed his work ethic, and thanks to his coach’s “incentive” three years ago, set him up to become a state champion and the Tribune Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
He played baseball for nearly a decade, and was a backup JV quarterback as a Brophy freshman. But this was the class of Tyler Bruggman and Greg Wirth, so quarterback was more than occupied, and he didn’t want to keep playing or practicing.
Bill Woods, the school’s 20-year tennis coach, is also the JV football coach. He came up with a compromise:
“I told him if he entered tennis tournaments on the weekends he wouldn’t have to come to football practice,” Woods said. “If I had a small amount of an effect maybe it’s because I was an easy football coach.”
Though happy to be out of football, it was rough. He bought a racket and was average but showed potential as a freshman with his athleticism and coordination, then became a better JV player as a sophomore, right around the time he saw his skills and room for growth soar after playing in tournaments and learning from a private coach.
Blake, who is headed to Texas Christian, had no second serve for the first two years of high school, but he could “outlast” lower-level opponents by reaching and returning difficult shots.
“He’d get hit butt kicked by the bigger players, but instead of quitting he’d fight and fight to make himself better,” Woods said. “He does not let little things or bad things turn on him.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jskodaAFN. Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.