You would think that the basketball season was right around the corner from all the attention Corona’s boys basketball team has garnered in the press so far this summer but according to coach Sam Duane Jr., it’s business as usual for his team.
“We’ve been working on team chemistry, one of our usual summer goals, and learning how to play with each other,” said Duane. “We are still a work in progress but we do have some pieces that could make us very good team hopefully by February.”
I’m guessing the fact that Corona has not lost a game so far this summer season plus winning both ASU’s team basketball camp tournament in early June and then, most recently, the Monarch Sports PrimeTime Summer tournament at Gilbert Highland June 22 by close to 20 points over Mesa Mountain View, at 58-41, has something to do with it.
“I thought we played our best ball of the summer in the PrimeTime,” said Duane. “Our guys are starting to get a good feel for each other and how we want to play. We still have many areas that we can improve on, especially defense, but we have made good progress this summer.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Aztecs will be returning their point guard for the past two championship seasons, Casey Benson, to help lead the team and set by example how it’s done his senior season.
“Casey is a tremendous player and teammate,” said Duane, “He has had a good summer for us.”
Benson, who was named azcentral.com’s Big Player of the Year last season appears to be in any danger of losing his tremendous work ethic.
“I have been continuing to work on getting stronger and quicker this summer,” said Benson. “As well as further developing my overall basketball skill set.”
The Aztecs will also be returning four additional players from last year’s team: Russ Davis, Vance Arnold, Jarrett Givens and Cassius Peat.
Givens, although not a starter last season, gained valuable experience as one of the first guys off the bench and is expected to provide scoring and leadership this season.
Peat, a starter last season, will have benefited from two full seasons on varsity under the helm of Duane. He has matured into a strong presence on the court who will be able to spend less time under the basket battling with the big guys since the Aztecs should potentially have two big guys of their own this upcoming season.
Although these two big guys may not take up as much space under the basket as the two DI linebackers, Andrus Peat and Avery Moss, did two years ago when the Aztecs won their first of two in-a-row state championships, they both have definite basketball skill sets.
Probably the most talked about new player on Corona’s team this summer may be 6-foot-9 Connor MacDougall who has committed to play at ASU a year from now. He is described as a fundamentally sound basketball player who is dominant at rebounding, quick on his feet, outstanding on defense, exceptional at ball handling (for a post player) and superb at shooting especially in the paint.
MacDougall transferred to Corona last year from the Phoenix Westwind Prep Academy where he played power forward and center on this nationally recognized high school team.
Aztec fans will most likely not get to see MacDougall play until January 2014 because that’s when he becomes officially eligible according the AIA transfer rules. He is pleading financial hardship with the AIA during an appeal hearing before the season starts.
The other big guy, 6-foot-6 Dane Kuiper, is also a transfer from Alaska who is described as more of an outside shooter but a tenacious rebounder with the skills of a guard but the size of a typical high school power forward.
“Dane, only a junior, is extremely talented and will add a lot to our team,” said Duane. “He is also a person of high character and a good teammate. He will be a good fit with our style and players.”
With the summer session winding down, both Benson and Duane are feeling pretty confident that it was a success.
“We have spent a lot of the time just figuring out everyone’s roles, where everyone fits in and building our team chemistry,” said Benson. “All of our new players have come in and meshed really well. They are going to be very important to us next year so it’s important for everyone to find their niche because when the season starts everyone’s roles are going to increase.”
Duane seemed equally pleased.
“We will finish our last week of practice with a lot of individual work and shooting and then play in the Best in Basketball Tournament at Highland on June 28-29,” said Duane. “We still have many areas that we can improve on but we like where our basketball program is right now.”
Scholarship update — Corona’s cross country and track runner Cody Jackson accepted an academic scholarship to Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, but also plans on running track for the Broncos who are probably best known for their football team. Or maybe it’s the blue field their football team plays on.
Jackson was recruited by several schools including Louisiana State University, Texas Christian University, Notre Dame, and Harvard, just to name a few. After a lot of research, Jackson chose Boise State for a unique reason.
“I chose Boise State because I like the fact that Coach Wick over there is young and has an open mind as far as training middle distance athletes,” said Jackson. “His program has been growing over the past six years and I know I will be developed to my potential there. It also helps that it’s not too far away from home.”
Jackson, who won state both his junior and senior years as part of Corona’s 4×800 relay team and then broke the school record as part of the 4×400 and 4×800 relay teams, feels his ability to successfully deal injuries and setbacks his junior and senior year is something he can bring to the Broncos.
“I feel I can bring a lot of motivational qualities to my new team,” said Jackson. “I feel I can speak from experience about how to not only cope with dealing with adversity, but how to overcome it.”
Corona assistant coach Ari Rodriguez is sure Jackson will be successful at Boise State due to his injuries but for a different reason.
“Cody is going to surprise a lot of coaches in college. He had injury issues both his junior and senior years which prevented him from running to his potential,” said Rodriquez. “He is leaving Corona will a 1:55 PR in the 800m he ran as a sophomore, and I have no doubt he will run under 1:50 his freshman year for the Broncos.”
Jackson, who chose to go out of state to school to focus solely on his training and studies, is planning on studying some area in the Kinesiology and Nutrition fields.
More scholarship news — The Aztecs’ team lost a tremendous basketball player to graduation this May. One who was quietly instrumental in helping them win two state championships with his unselfish play and tenacious defense.
Bryan Siefker is all set to attend Regis University in Denver where is he will become part of the Ranger’s basketball team.
“Bryan will make a great impact at Regis and have a terrific career,” said coach Sam Duane, Jr. “He has a chance to be a very good player in the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic) conference.”
Siefker choose Regis, after being recruited by several other schools including Cal-State Bakersfield and Point Lomas because he felt like he fit into their program the best.
“When I visited the campus and their basketball program, I just felt like I belonged there,” said Siefker. “I know I’ll miss my parents and my mom’s cooking but I just thought it was the best possible place for me to fit into a program.”
Hoping to major in business and specifically finance academically, Siefker plans to bring his championship experience and leadership to his new team on and off the court.
Fellow high school teammate, Adam Gleave, chose Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, to attend school and play basketball for the Red Storm.
After being recruited by NAU and Snow College, Gleave chose Dixie State University based on previous visits and a desire to always attend the school.
“I’m happy for Adam,” said Duane. “He is at a place where he will have a great success and have a good career.”
Gleave plans on bringing his work ethic and offensive and defensive skills to the Red Storm this fall.
“I plan to bring my aggressive play and hard work to my new team,” said Gleave. “I feel I can also bring my great midrange and three-point shot and my defensive skills to my Dixie State University basketball team.”
Although recruited by several small out-of-state schools, Corona football player Sam Radford decided to stay close to home to play football his first year or so.
“I played football and did track at Corona all four of my high school years,” said Radford. “I chose to play football at Scottsdale Community College this fall to stay closer to home and because they have a reputation as a good program to be recruited to the next level.”
At a 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Radford played lineman for the Aztecs. He was also awarded the Joe Sellah award by his teammates, won a Tempe All-City award and was selected to the Third Team All-Section team.
Radford is thinking about studying criminal justice or a related field in college.