Experience bolsters Chaparral boys hoops success

Alem Huseinovic dribbles the ball prior to the start of a drill at a recent practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Another year of experience has made all the difference at Chaparral High School.

Through 17 games, the Firebirds boys basketball team is 14-3 and on pace for a top finish in its maiden voyage into 6A. Contrast that with a year ago when Chaparral was 7-10 heading toward a 14-14 finish and a first-round exit in the 5A state playoffs.

Many of this year’s Firebirds were part of that mediocre finish but they’ve learned from past experiences. Head Coach Dan Peterson said that learning has made a big difference on the court, especially in how the team closes out tight games.

“Having the experience from last year and the year before where we might not have finished, let’s them see ‘hey we’ve been here, now we know what to do,’” he said.

Chaparral Head Coach Dan Peterson speaks to his team prior to a recent practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Having experience has also brought about a better sense of leadership, Coach Peterson said. He looks to four-year varsity player Blaise Threatt as well as seniors Alec Bryan and Micah Burno as leaders.

Seniors comprise more than half the roster with several younger contributors such as Jordan Josephs and Alem Huseinovic. Most of the players saw significant time on the court in the 2017-18 season.

Last season, Threatt said a lot of players wanted the shot, playing more like individuals rather than a team. Fast forward a year and Threatt says the team is passing the ball better, leading to more unselfish basketball.

Along with stronger ball movement, some on the team have noted an added layer of confidence. Threatt said he has noticed confidence play a big role on defense.

“Last year, people were like, ‘I don’t want to guard him. He might be too good for me, he might get by me,’” Threatt said. “This year, our team is more like a family and I think that’s why we’re doing so well this year.”

Bryan said that family atmosphere has led the team to be more comfortable with each other, fostering trust and a smoother style of play.

Statistically, the Firebirds are scoring about two more points a game than last season’s average and are pulling down about one more rebound per game. Defensively, Coach Peterson said his guys are “smarter, bigger and stronger,” which helps benefits the Firebirds’ offensive fast breaks.

All of those improvements have led to more winning, which in turns breeds more confidence, Bryan said.

“We think we can really make a run this year in the playoffs,” Bryan said. “I think the winning has really boosted our self confidence and really showed the team we can be.”

Chaparral senior Alec Bryan (right) drives past a defender during a drill at a recent practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

But the season’s not over yet. Chaparral still has its region play to get through, which features top-ranked Pinnacle High School.

Coach Peterson said the team has set a goal to be a top-four team in 6A, which would allow Chaparral to play at home until the semifinals. After that, the games shift to a neutral site such as Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

As of Wednesday, Jan. 9, the Firebirds ranked second in 6A, just behind Pinnacle.

“(Playing Pinnacle) is going to give us a really good gauge on how we are going to compete against those top-end teams, which I think we are one of the top-end teams,” Coach Peterson said.

“For us, being challenged with those types of players and (Pinnacle Head Coach Charles Wilde’s) program, because he does a great job over there, it’s going to be a great leveling out of where we are and see how we can finish the season.”

Regardless of how the season turns out, Coach Peterson said he is proud of his team progress. He said he’s seen them grow together cohesively as a team both on and off the court.

Coach Peterson has spent a lot of time helping the players gel away from the court because he believes as fun as it is to play on basketball, relationships and memories are far more important.

“I think that’s very impactful on how they conduct themselves on the court and off the court,” he said.
“It’s great to see this team grow.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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