Goodyear Millennium and Phoenix Desert Vista girls, and Phoenix Sunnyslope and Gilbert Perry boys were center stage Friday afternoon at Veterans Memoria Coliseum for the first Arizona Interschoalstic Association’s Media Day to set the stage for Satrurday’s state championships.
The major attractions were Desert Vista freshman Jerzy Robinson and Perry’s 6-foot-8 Big 2 of Cody Williams and Koa Peat.
Robinson, who is 6-1, only 14, and already looks like she could hand the rigors of Division I college basketball, drew the most media attention when it came time for separate interviews. She was surrrounded by reporters.
She looked comfortable in the setting, smiling, gracious.
Her face lit up when coach Dave Williams, at the podium with the players seated next to him at a long table, talked about Robinson, saying she’s “just like LeBron.”
“She can rebound, defense, go inside and outside, and can be a great assist person,” Williams said. “Can be. Tomorrow, it’s important to get up and make them play our style.”
Robinson might already be the best female high school player Arizona high schools have ever seen. But she doesn’t get ahead of herself.
“I think definitely staying grounded in the Lord,” she said about putting things in perspective. “He keeps me on track. And embracing the hype and just staying true to ourselves.”
‘Life is way bigger than basketball’
Millennium’s girls team was hit hard by the news of classmate Gabe Aguirre’s death. Aguirre, a member of the football team, died in a car accident the day before Millennium was to play Chandler Seton in an Open quarterfinal game.
The school worked with the AIA and Seton to move the game a few days to give the girls a chance to try to process the news and grieve.
They’re still grieving, but they’re playing with Gabe’s spirit in their hearts now.
“There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not thinking about him, thinking about his family,” senior guard Mia Amundsen said. “We reach out and talk to his family to see what they need. They reach out to us. It showed us that life is way bigger than basketball. There are things outside of basketball that you need to take care of, reach out to your family. Just really be present with the people you really care about in their lives.”
Weight of expectations
Perry’s boys basketball team comes into Saturday’s 5:30 p.m., championship game as the heavy favorite against No. 10-seed Phoenix Sunnyslope. Perry’s two-point loss in early January at Phoenix Pinnacle woke the Pumas up. They were ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation then. Since then, Perry has taken everybody’s best punch and countered with devastating runs to blow teams out, especially in the 32-team Open, where nobody has come within single digits of them.
And, as Williams said during Media Day, they got “sweet revenge” in the Open second round, beating Pinnacle 53 points, after building a 50-11 halftime lead.
Asked how this team remains focused, Williams said, “Keeping our head down and working.”
“Our coaches always tell us that rankings, none of that matters, if we don’t come out and perform,” said Williams, an All-American from three different national outlets, who will be playing at Colorado. “Every day in practice, we make sure we’re locked in, getting our stuff done.”
Perry’s practice was tough and competitive, scrimmaging full court, during its alotted one-hour time on the Coliseum court.
Perr coach Sam Duane addressed the season-long target, and “embracing it.”
“We knew these expectations would be on us,” Duane said. “The day after we won it last year, through summer, through now, we talk about embracing and loving our fate. We talk about being in the present.”
Duane credited former Perry baseball coach Damien Tippett helping with the mental aspect with the players once a week.
“We talk about being where our feet are,” Duane said. “Being in the present. And that’s what we’ve done all year. And embracing each other. Embracing these practices and games.”
Sunnyslope lost to Perry 71-46 on Jan. 12. That was 6-6 junior Jai Anthoni Bearden’s second game for Sunnyslope after becoming eligible since transferring from Glendale Raymond S. Kellis. Bearden had 12 points, seven rebounds and a block.
Since then, Bearden feels Sunnyslope and himself have come along way.
“I feel like I’m 10 times better,” he said. “I was more on the preparing team. Now I’m comforable with everyone.”
Bearden isn’t over-hyped over this second opportunity against Perry.
“To me it’s just another game,” he said. “I know if I play hard and give my all, I know I’m going to accomplish something.”
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