Continuity and longevity are clear themes among the Mesa boys basketball programs.
It starts with two Arizona coaching icons in Mountain View’s Gary Ernst, who enters his 39th year with the Toros, and Dobson’s Rick McConnell, who started with Dobson in 1984.
There are two other coaches – Mesa’s Shane Burcar and Desert Ridge’s Greg Ream – who have been with their program for at least a decade.
Even the one first-year coach – Red Mountain’s Chris Lemon – spent time with the program as an assistant.
The longevity creates an advantage as players funnel through the program. Before they step into a varsity practice, they know the system and expectations before ever playing a game.
“A steady coaching staff means the players are ready to play when they get to varsity,” Ernst said. “They’ve been in the system and know where to be on the court. They can play without thinking too much because it becomes natural.
“The other thing is they might weed themselves out over time because the good kids do the right things. If they are not willing to do it then they can usually see it’s not going to work out.”
Here is a look at area teams and how it might work out for them:
Coach: Greg Ream, 10th season
Last year’s record: 14-16
Record over 10 years: 134-138
Top players: Griffin Lynch, Sr., guard; Jack Selles, Sr., post.
Comment/Notes: The Jaguars lost their top six scorers, including sophomore Jason Harris, who led the team in scoring at 12.5 a game, to Higley via transfer. … Desert Ridge is coming off an Elite Eight performance a year ago. … Desert Ridge opened the season with a 76-71 win over Pinnacle at the Welcome to The Jungle tournament at Gilbert. … The Jaguars will play in the McClintock Holiday Shootout, starting Dec. 26. … Lynch and Selles are captains for Desert Ridge.
Coach: Rick McConnell, 34th season
Last year’s record: 9-17
Record over 10 years: 143-126
Top players: Johnathan Hunter, Sr., guard;
Comment/Notes: The Mustangs open the season at home Nov. 28 against La Joya, and then travel to Kofa for the start of the Southwest Rotary Classic. … Hunter was a second-team All-East Valley Region pick last season. The Mustangs have had losing seasons in two of the last three years after having zero in the previous 14 seasons of the MaxPreps era. … Dobson will play in the McClintock Shootout starting Dec. 26. … The Mustangs are lacking height this year as the tallest player on the roster is listed at 6-foot-4. … McConnell enters the season with 603 wins.
Coach: Shane Burcar, 12th season
Last year’s record: 19-9
Record over 10 years: 200-84
Top players: Mark Hatch, Sr., guard, Zach Hobbs, Jr., guard; Xavier Fuller, Sr., guard.
Comment/Notes: The Jackrabbits season with their annual Fear the Hop tournament and won their first two games against Apache Junction and Saguaro. … Hatch and Hobbs were first-team All-East Valley Region picks while Fuller was an honorable mention pick. … Burcar has a 218-97 record with Mesa. … The Jackrabbits will participate in the McClintock Holiday Shootout starting Dec. 26. … Mesa went 4-5 at home last year in power point games.
Coach: Gary Ernst, 39 years
Last year’s record: 17-9
Record over 10 years: 212-65
Top players: Zach Lyons, Jr., forward; Taylor Harris, Sr., forward; Cooper Richeson, Sr., guard.
Comment/Notes: Lyons was an honorable mention All-EV Region pick last season. … Richeson missed his sophomore and “never got it going” to the court as junior, but Ernst said he looks to be his normal self. … The Toros have won 17 games the last two seasons, which qualifies as the least number of wins in a season during the MaxPreps era (since 2004-05). … Mountain View opens the season on Nov. 27 by hosting Highland. … The Toros will continue to host one of the state’s top tournaments as the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge starts Dec. 27 and are scheduled to play Pleasant Grove (Utah) and Mercer Island (Wash.). … Ernst said he begins the season 23 wins from 900 in his career.
Coach: James Capriotti, third season
Last year’s record: 13-13
Record over 10 years: 104-157
Top players: Dominik Moore, Sr., forward; Ethan Wallace, Sr., guard.
Comment/Notes: The Coyotes opened the year in the Fear the Hop and beat Apache Junction 44-42 on Monday. … Skyline will play in the McClintock Holiday Shootout starting Dec. 26. … Moore started the year with a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. … Wallace was second-team All-EV Region last season after averaging 18 points a game in 13 contests in the second half of the season. … The team lost J’Saan Strover, who transferred to Desert Vista after averaging 16.4 points a game as a sophomore last year. He scored at least 20 points seven times including a career-high 37.
Coach: Chris Lemon, first year
Last year’s record: 18-9
Record over 10 years: 168-123
Top players: Timmy Allen, Sr., guard; Andre Harris, Jr., forward.
Comments/Notes: Allen was a big-name transfer last season, and had to sit out a year. Now, he’s settled in and ready to cap career with big season. Averaged 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 12 games. … Harris was a second-team All-EV pick year ago. … The Mountain Lions averaged 53.1 points a game. It should go up a tick this year and might even surpass 60. … Lemon returns to Red Mountain where he was an assistant under coach Todd Fazio before leading Mesquite the last two seasons. The Wildcats went from three wins his first year to 15 last season. … Red Mountain opens the year on Nov. 28 at Millennium.
Coach: Troy Powell, fifth season
Last year’s record: 7-19
Record over 10 years: 107-167
Top players: Timmy Johnson, Jr., guard;, Cory Jasinki, Sr., guard; Andrew Brimley, Sr., guard; Zerek Stratton, Sr., center; Carter Layton, Sr., forward.
Comment/Notes: The Warriors have several layers around the same height, but few big bodies over 6-foot-4. … Westwood has not had a winning season since 2006-07. … “We are involved with the process of getting better every day,” Powell said. “I expect that we will work as hard as we can every day we are given to play the game of basketball.” … Johnson led the team in assists and scoring as a sophomore. … The Warriors opened the season Monday at the Independence Thanksgiving Tournament against Dysart.
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.