Mountain Pointe’s basketball program was virtually depleted following the end of the 2018-19 season.
They were without a head coach after Kirk Fauske stepped down to take over Phoenix Prep, a national high school program made up of Arizona players.
Four senior starters graduated, including Phoenix College’s Jonah LaBranche, Arizona State’s Jalen Graham and the unsung leader of the program, Khalid Price. DeAndre Henry, a Nevada commit, transferred to PHHoenix Prep after his junior season at Mountain Pointe.
The Pride were written off as a team going through a rebuilding year – which may be partially true. But the players who are filling the shoes of a talented 2019 senior class don’t feel this way.
“I think us being counted out and we all knew with our firepower left with transfers, it pushed us,” junior point guard Jason Kimbrough said. “We know we can compete with anyone in the state. Being counted out has pushed us to work hard every day so we can continue to compete.”
Kimbrough took it upon himself following Fauske’s departure from the program to lead the team. He organized offseason workouts between Mountain Pointe players until Kaimarr Price, Khalid’s uncle, was hired as the school’s next head coach.
Price, a Mountain Pointe graduate, relied on the leadership from Kimbrough as well as a few seniors who remained in the program for help during his transition as head coach.
There were some changes within the program since the team conducted summer workouts, mostly with the roster. But it’s been beneficial for the younger players.
“In the summer, we had a lot of seniors running the show for us,” Price said. “We had a couple of issues that now has the roster looking different for us. Our starting lineup is now a freshman, sophomore and three juniors.
“They’re huge for us and give us a lot of minutes. They play with a lot of heart.”
Kimbrough is one of the three junior starters for the Pride this season. The other is 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward Zereoue Williams, known as “Big Z” to his teammates. Price has leaned on both of them to lead by example in practice, games and off the court.
So far, they have both done just that.
“Z has been huge for us. He gets every rebound, he blocks every shot. He rotates on defense every time,” Price said. “He isn’t the typical big man that’ll do that and then gets rewarded with the ball on the other end.
“We need to do a better job of getting him the ball more. But he comes and works. He’s a great kid, no-load management there. He plays every day.”
Williams played junior varsity last season as a sophomore but would often sit on the varsity bench during games. He was being groomed to take over the starting role down low when the 2019 class graduated.
But he didn’t expect to be the key man in the paint for the Pride so soon. It was a role he planned to share with Henry.
But Williams was determined to pick up where the senior class left off.
“At the end of the season, I told myself, ‘if Dre is leaving then I’m going to have to step up,’” Williams said. “I went to work every day with Jason. I just try to play hard.”
Williams averages 10.5 rebounds per game for the Pride this season, several of which come on the offensive end of the court. He’s also averaging 3.5 blocks per game on defense. His ability to extend offensive possessions on one end of the court and limit opponents is key to Mountain Pointe’s 8-3 start through 11 games this season.
It’s also helped players like Kimbrough and freshman guard Mark Brown, who both average double-digit points and a combined seven assists per game.
“I just know my role,” Williams said. “I need to get every rebound and pass it off to Jason because he is our big leader. Even if it means not getting every single point, I know my role is to get every rebound and play defense.”
Mountain Pointe has struggled at times against some of the better teams in the 6A Conference. The Pride were blown out by Cesar Chavez, one of the favorites to win the 6A title They also lost two close games to Chandler and Pinnacle, which won the past two 6A titles including the 2018 championship over Mountain Pointe.
While young, each player on the Mountain Pointe roster sees room for improvement in one another. An aspect they believe will only help them moving forward in the season.
“We are young, but not in a sense we don’t know what we are doing,” Kimbrough said. “We don’t know when to quit. It’s a fire that pushes us through games.”