Changing the culture of a program is never easy, so Hosea Graham is attempting to do it three minutes at a time.

When the Mountain Pointe coach returned to the program after a year at Westwood, his focus was on getting the players to go from participating in basketball to competing.

“They knew I wanted something different but wasn’t sure what it was,” he said. “I didn’t drop it on them right away. I started to show them in practice. There were consequences and rewards for everything we did.

“You have to compete for everything. It’s not a rec league. It’s high school basketball and at this level you have to compete at all times in order to be successful. It’s not just some of the time and you can’t do it just for the games. You have to adapt that approach at all times.”

That’s why practice has become more than two hours of going through offensive and defensive sets while preparing for the next opponent for the Pride.

During certain portions of practice the team competes at three minute intervals where points are awarded and subtracted for positive and negative plays.

“He’ll put three minutes on the clock and rebounds are worth points, turnovers take away points,” said junior point guard Isaiah Ledford. “It’s great. It makes us work a lot harder and we have to compete just to win at practice.”

Graham, who had a career record of 253-81 entering this season, said the idea of competing at all times is vital in developing the level of success he expects.

“That’s what we have to do in order get there,” said Graham, who coached at Westwood last season after returning to bench as the Pride JV coach two seasons ago. “They are starting to understand what it truly means to compete and not just participate. I am excited about the future.”

Graham might have his eyes on the years to come, but his focus is on this year’s roster and he feels they are being underestimated. The program has its third head coach in three years so it is struggling for an identity, but the talent is there to start the success now.

The team was off to a 2-1 starter after Thursday’s win at Basha heading into Saturday’s game against Ironwood Ridge.

The Pride, who hosts Desert Vista on Tuesday, have been without forward/center Chris Davis, who has been practicing every day, thus far, but have the services of Emmanuel Butler, who decided to play after talking to the Northern Arizona football coaches.

Senior Danny Sullivan is rejuvenated after missing most of last season because of a concussion and mononucelosis, Khalil Salahuddin is playing great defense, Dominic Reyes is no longer just sitting at the 3-point line and finding other ways to contribute, while Ledford and fellow junior Tyree Shivers, who is getting back into the rotation after missing the preseason because of football, push the ball at a high-rate of speed.

Early indications are the Pride, who will play in the McClintock Christmas tournament starting Dec. 26, could prove more competitive than originally thought. The talent is always going to be there, but if they play within the system and compete, they could end up being more than just a tough out.

“They are right there,” Graham said. “When we play within the confinement of the offense and don’t race, race and take the ‘I’m open, I’m open’ approach we are pretty good. They aren’t good enough yet to play freelance basketball.

“That’s the discipline we need.”

The players are starting to understand it and the 71-50 win over Tolleson provided the perfect blueprint. They were focused and played within the offense in the first and fourth quarters to score a combined 44 points, but lost their discipline in the second and third to score a total of 27 points.

“When we are focused and competing we are a different team,” the 6-foot-5 Sullivan said. “Coach has been drilling into us about competing for everything, including playing time. It’s starting to sink in and we can see the difference.”

Graham’s hoping that difference leads to expanding their three-minute intervals in practice to a full 32 minutes of a game.

“Within the confinement of our offense we have a very good team,” Graham said. “Defensively, we can get after it. It’s a matter of putting it all together in order to reach the level of some of the teams like Corona del Sol and some others.

“We have it in us. It’s just a matter of bringing it out and keep competing at that level.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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