Mountain Pointe’s run to the 6A basketball state championship last season was fueled by a slew of young, talented players and a coaching staff that could relate to the culture that surrounds the school.
Now entering his second season as head coach, Mountain Pointe alum Kaimarr Price knows what success tastes like while leading high school program. Price and his team are hungry for more. And with most of its starting lineup returning — plus the addition of a key transfer — Mountain Pointe is on track to not only returning to the championship game but is arguably the preseason favorite to win it all.
“I think about the championship game every day,” Price said. “It was year one, I obviously had a lot of stuff to learn and didn’t make the right adjustments in time. I watched a lot of film, talked to a lot of coaches, so hopefully it’ll be a better outcome this time.”
The Pride entered last year’s state tournament as the No. 11 seed but dominated their way to the finals, where they fell to rival and top-ranked Desert Vista.
Mountain Pointe’s starting lineup, with the exception of senior guards Miles Sulka and TJ Tigler rotating in from his sixth-man role, returns for the 2020-21 season. That includes senior Jason Kimbrough, an explosive point guard who not only serves as the floor general for the Pride but can score from anywhere on the court.
Sophomore guard Mark Brown and junior guard Anthony Jaramillo also return for the Pride, while 6-foot-8 senior forward Zereoue Williams, who committed to play football at Utah after just one varsity season, will once again man the paint.
“Us starting at that young age, that growth through the whole year of struggles, the amazing playoff run and the pain in the championship, it gave us a different mentality in preseason workouts,” Kimbrough said. “I don’t think there is a ceiling for this team.”
Along with the returning starters and talented players moving up in the program, Mountain Pointe also added Roosevelt “Tru” Washington, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard who trains on a regular basis with TyTy Washington, his nephew and one of the top-rated basketball players in the country currently playing for AZ Compass Prep in Chandler.
Washington transferred from Cesar Chavez in Laveen after a coaching change. Last year, as a freshman starter, he helped lead the Champions to the 6A quarterfinals, where they fell to Desert Vista. Price said Washington’s talent at a young age reminds him of the success former Mountain Pointe forward Jalen Graham had in his time with the Pride before he went on to play for Bobby Hurley at Arizona State.
Washington hopes to utilize his talent to not only take Mountain Pointe back to the championship but take the next step and win its first-ever state title.
“I know I can add more points on the board, defense and rebounds,” Washington said. “They lost in the state championship and we now have a chance to do that and go undefeated.”
Having witnessed Mountain Pointe’s late-season success last year, Washington has already developed the same mindset as the other Pride players. This year it’s all about redemption.
Washington’s transfer has been seamless. He’s been able to quickly establish chemistry with the rest of the Pride players. Much of that, though, has stemmed from his established relationship on the court with Brown. The two have played with one another for several years in club basketball, and now aim to take their style of play together to another level.
“(Washington) brings everything. Motivation, energy, he’s an excellent rebounder, he can score, everything,” Brown said. “This is a redemption season. That loss motivates me every day. We have to go take it back now.”
The pandemic has resulted in a near two-month delay to the start of the basketball season and other winter sports. The Arizona Interscholastic Association said official practices will be allowed to begin after Jan. 5. But even then, with spiking case numbers across the state, there’s still uncertainty about whether or not the season will be allowed to begin.
But Price continues to tell his players they can only control so much. For now, the only controllable is their overall preparedness when they officially get the go-ahead from the AIA.
And with the championship loss still fresh in the minds of all involved with the program, there’s no doubt Mountain Pointe will enter the new season with a chip on its shoulder.
“Winning the first championship in school history, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” Price said. “This is a talented enough team to do it. There aren’t any glaring weaknesses. They work hard and play for each other.
“Having gone here, I know we are as good of a program as there is in the state, we just have no titles to show for it. Winning that first one will get us over the hump.”