Youth, potential abound for Chaparral Firebirds boys basketball

The Chaparral boys basketball team runs a drill during a Dec. 13 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

When the Chaparral High School boys basketball team made it to the semifinals of the 5A state tournament last year, it did so with a predominantly senior roster.

Now, Head Coach Dan Peterson looks to take a group of young, inexperienced players and try to recreate the magic from a year ago.

The Chaparral boys basketball team runs a drill during a Dec. 13 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

So far, the Firebirds have constructed a 6–4 record as of Thursday, Dec. 14, prior to their home game against Agua Fria High School.

Chaparral’s roster is comprised of three seniors, six juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. Many of those players have little to no varsity experience.

Coach Peterson said while this group is talented and has experience in other ways, playing at the varsity level is much different because opponents are stronger and more physical.

Because of this difference, he said there is a learning curve in adjusting to the higher level.

“A lot of these young guys who are fresh to varsity basketball just need to understand the pace of the game and the tempo and the physicality of it all,” Coach Peterson said in a Dec. 13 interview.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get some experience so they understand what it means to compete at that level.”

Through the first 10 games, Chaparral has seen a mixture of highs and lows.

The Firebirds won six of their first seven games but went on to lose the next three.

While Coach Peterson said he doesn’t expect perfection out of his players, he does expect them to put in the effort and be competitive, So far, he’s seen that at times.

“What we have to learn is how to go out every single game and be ready mentally and physically focused so that when we step out on that floor, we’re going to give it everything we have,” he said.

Highs and lows

One area Coach Peterson said he wants to see the team improve on is communication, particularly on defense.

The Chaparral boys basketball team runs a passing drill during a Dec. 13 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

He said this lack of communication also manifests itself through not being supportive of one another when players get down.

“We’re not pointing fingers but we’re also not helping each other like we should and that just comes with experience,” he said.

Sophomore guard Alem Huseinovic is new to varsity and he said the team needs to improve on its team chemistry as well.

The team is working on improving that chemistry by getting together off the court and trying to become better friends with each other, he said.

Huseinovic said the chemistry is far better than it was at the start of the season.

“Everyone’s cheering each other up,” he said in a Dec. 13 interview. “There’s no discouragement. Everyone’s happy for each other when they score. We’re getting there.”

While the Firebirds do have a slew of new players on the varsity squad, they do return junior guard Blaise Threatt, who is the team’s only returning starter from last year.

Threatt is one of the team’s leading scorers and assist-leaders. On and off the court, he has emerged as one of the team’s leaders.

He said the team does work well together and no one player puts themselves above the rest.

“We’re still getting used to playing with each other but I feel like if we come together, we can make something special happen,” he said in a Dec. 13 interview.

Threatt said he is working to help those younger players make the adjustment to varsity since he’s been there before.

As for that adjustment, Huseinovic, another key scorer for Chaparral, said the first two games were a bit rocky for him but ever since, he’s felt more comfortable on varsity.

He said as he started to increase his speed to match the velocity of the varsity level, the adjustment became easier.

A high ceiling

Mixed in with the growing pains and adjustments are several positives, Coach Peterson said.

The Chaparral boys basketball team runs a drill during a Dec. 13 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

An example of this team hitting all the points Coach Peterson wants them to is the Firebirds’ opening tournament, the Firebird Frenzy.

Chaparral won the first three games of the tournament, all against teams who now have losing records, and played a close game with Paradise Valley, which has an 8–2 record as of Thursday, Dec. 14 morning.

In order to find that success, Coach Peterson said the team was doing everything he asked of them including communicating, finding each other and competing at a high level.

But that’s not the only place he’s seen that fire.

“We’ve had practice sessions where they know what it means to be physical and to play hard and to want to win against their teammates, hopefully pushing each other to get better as they do so,” he said.

While the team is still growing and Coach Peterson said he’s still trying to figure out everyone’s roles, he does see a lot of potential for what the Firebirds can accomplish.

He said he believes the Firebirds are a talented group with a high ceiling but they’re not showing it yet and it won’t happen overnight.

Still, Coach Peterson said as the season progresses, he expects his team to continue improving as long as his players put in the work necessary.

“There’s some great teams out there but a lot of those teams are almost maxed out on their talent level and where they’re going to reach,” he said. “I think we can surpass a lot of them just with what we have but unless we start to gel and understand our concepts, it’s going to take a while.”

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

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