Missing pieces didn’t stop Tony Darden from beginning the process of putting together the puzzle that is Desert Vista boys basketball.
Darden and the Thunder have had an initiation of about four weeks since he was named the successor to Dave Williams.
It has been a good feeling-out process even though some of the top players like Quincy Taylor and Caleb Simmons haven’t been around much because of other summer basketball commitments.
“We still got a lot to work on, but I am happy where they are for the short period of time we’ve been together,” Darden said. “With any new program, you are trying to get everyone acclimated to the way you do things. That’s what we’ve had to do.”
The team has one more week of the Sunnyslope summer league before taking a break after playing in several tournaments, including more than one in a single day, since school let out.
The Thunder played in the PrimeTime tournament at Tempe High over the weekend and were challenged from the start.
Desert Vista opened up with three-time Division I champion Corona del Sol and then played Shadow Mountain, which is expected to win the next two Division II titles after getting its first this past winter.
The Thunder were tied with Corona at the half before letting the game get away from them (78-64) and then lost a close one (44-39) to Shadow Mountain on Friday before beating Tempe (72-60) and Sunnyslope (59-57) on Saturday to finish in fifth place.
“It’s been great, and I really like some of things Coach has done,” said senior post Brandon Clarke, who had 15 points and seven rebounds in the win over Tempe. “He isn’t just about the team. He is trying to help with personal development, too. I think he is a really good fit for this team.”
Summer basketball is more laid back, of course, and the referees usually forget their whistles, so the level of play can be deceiving. At this time of the year, especially for a team with a new coach, the most vital aspect of the whole thing is court time.
“We are just getting a feel for each other,” said Darden, who came over from Coronado after two years of running the program. “That’s what it is about. Some young players could potentially contribute, so it is good for them to get a feel for it.”
The starting lineup over the weekend was Clarke, junior JD Hamilton, junior Tarik Cool, senior Chris Touresian and freshman Amari Hudson.
The bench, including Cameron Centers and Noah Baumann, provided a lift as well.
It’s too far away to start predicting what will happen this winter, but the talent is clearly there to improve on last year’s 16-12 mark.
“He lets you play through your mistakes and works with you outside of practice,” said Cool, who knows Darden from club ball at AZ Power. “The next few years are going to be good with this style and our talent. He is kind of laid back but he will jump on you when he has to.
“When we have all of our pieces, we are going to be pretty good. We know what we can do.”
Darden, 34, isn’t quite sure exactly what that might be at this point, but feels like the progress needed was made over the last four weeks.
“I think they were maybe surprised by the level of discipline,” he said. “I’m a rather young coach, so they can talk to me, but I’m hard-nosed. They are going to be held accountable. I can relate to them, but I’m going to crack the whip when I need to.
“I need to evaluate these guys and this is the best way to do it. As a coach, you always want to see more. I am happy and I’ll be excited after July when we can put more of the system in the place and really get it going.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.