HS hoops teams hang on, waiting for football arrivals

Hang on, high school hoops fans.  The Calvary is on the way.

Even though basketball season in Arizona has been underway for a month, many of the boys’ high school teams have been struggling to get by with a roster that lacks any kind of depth.  In fact, many have had serious holes in their starting line-ups.

The reason is football.

The overlap between the end of football season and the beginning of basketball season means that many of the better basketball players have still been playing in pads and helmets until their football season is officially over – which could extend into December if their school goes deep into the playoffs.

It’s a particularly acute problem at the smaller schools, where there is a limited pool of talent to fill out all the sports.  Most of the better athletes play two or three sports, and those teams rely heavily on their presence.

For example, Show Low High School, a small 3A football power in the White Mountains, has a student body of around 900 kids from which to fill all their boys and girls sports teams.

Show Low just wrapped up the state football title, so now the Cougars can fill out their basketball roster.  Four of the football players will make the transition to the hardcourt, including record-breaking quarterback Rathen Ricedorff who has set state records for most touchdowns in a season and most in a single game.  Now he switches from running the football offense to running the basketball plays as the Cougars’ point guard.

And their return comes none too soon.  Show Low is off to an 0-2 start under the new head coach, Troy Cooke. The addition of Ricedorff, Chance Brewer, Huston Tenney, and 6’4″ Josh Weeks should turn that train around.

Now that all the teams are done, except the remaining four teams in 5A that are waiting for the Dec. 13 state championship games, most basketball programs are starting to stabilize as the football players begin getting into basketball shape and practices can be run with a full complement of players who need to get used to working together.

Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson (Oro Valley) also just wrapped up its season, but not quite as successfully as Show Low.  The Dorados lost in the 4A-I state title game, 41-34, to Saguaro HS in Scottsdale.

But there is a similarity in the way the basketball program has struggled without its football players.  CDO is 2-4 so far this season and anxious to get three off the gridiron and onto the basketball court, including some muscle under the rim in the form of 6’2″, 233-pound Blake Martinez.

The trio also includes the senior leadership of Ka’Deem Carey and Jason McBrayer, who man the two key positions on the football field and will bring that guidance to the hoops game.

McBrayer is the quarterback who led the Dorados to a 13-1 record and the title game, and Carey is the prolific running back who was last year’s Big Schools Player of the Year and one of the most coveted recruits in the Class of 2011.  He has verbally committed to play for the University of Arizona.

But the inequity of the system, where major sports overlap, really shows up when you consider a school like Mesa High School.

The Jackrabbits had a down year in football, finishing 3-7 and wrapping up their football season before the playoffs even began.  The basketball team didn’t have to wait around for half of its  starting line-up.

On top of that, they will have an experienced back court that includes Jahii Carson, considered by most to be the top high school basketball point guard in the state.  Arizona State snatched him up in their Class of 2011.

They have all been at practices since tryouts and have been on the floor since the first game.  Which helps account for why the Jackrabbits are ranked in everyone’s top 5 pre-season polls in 5A and got off to a 3-0 start.

While it doesn’t happen in every case, all too often the schools with the really good football teams get penalized in their basketball programs.

And, yes, the same holds true for girls’ basketball teams waiting to fill out their rosters with players from volleyball teams that have gone deep into their playoffs.  But there isn’t enough room here to get into that side of the issue.

This all means playing catch-up for teams like Show Low and Canyon del Oro, and others who have been waiting on teams in other sports that have tacked extra weeks onto their schedules as they worked through the playoffs.

So now, that part of the basketball season is finally about to begin for them.