By Alex Zener
If you go to only one high school basketball game all season, it should be to watch the three-time defending state champions and currently No. 18 nationally ranked—as well as No. 1 Arizona ranked— Corona del Sol team . Not to take anything away from their three predecessors, but this team’s dynamic, fast-paced, highfl ying style of play is surely a spectacle to see. It has the potential to be one of the best ever to play in Corona’s history. Witness the Aztecs going 4-0 in the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge at Mountain View High School over the winter break, defeating two highly ranked out-of-state teams. “We played really well…beating the number one team from the state of Washington 73-51 and then Imhotep, out of Pennsylvania, 84-70,” said coach Sammy Duane Jr. Then the Aztecs gave Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.), one of the four national elite high school programs playing in the Hoophall West at Scottsdale Chaparral, a serious scare on Jan. 3. It came down to, what else: free throws. Corona, which led at the six minute mark, 57-51, in the fourth quarter, still had a two-point lead, 64- 62, with 30 seconds to go. The Aztecs had two chances to defeat the No. 9 nationally ranked team in the fi nal seconds, but missed the front end of two separate bonus free throws to lose 65-64. “Playing against the highly competitive Sierra Canyon was a good game for us,” said Duane. “It showed that we can compete at a high level with any team in the nation.” “Even though it was a tough one to lose, we gained confi dence and are a better team for playing Sierra Canyon and those two other top-ranked out-of-state teams we defeated over the break.” What makes this Aztec team even more exciting for longtime Aztec fans is that the core of their talent comes from two underclassmen. The Aztecs have a spectacular freshman in 6-foot-10 Marvin Bagley III, whose athletic prowess is only the beginning of this player’s upside. Bagley seems to truly buy into the team mentality, comes across as extremely coachable, and is one of the fi rst to congratulate his teammates successes on fl oor. Bagley possesses the ability to run the fl oor, shoot with range, move the ball and fi nish inside with both hands. It’s hard to imagine too many players, especially in high school, with the ability to stop him. Bagley’s abilities do not diminish the impressive talent found in sophomore point guard Alex Barcello. His lightning quick moves and control on the fl oor give the Aztecs a man at the helm who can easily steer the large arsenal of weapons they have at their disposal. These weapons include fellow starters Dane Kuiper, Cassius Peat and Tyrell Henderson. New Mexico-bound Kuiper has the ability to handle the ball inside and out, move with fl uidity rare for his height, fi nish above the rim and guard the opponents’ better players. Peat, in his fourth year on varsity, is a Division I-bound athlete who has yet to lose a state championship basketball game. His wide array of basketball skills and doggedness on the fl oor, especially when the Aztecs need a power move, is an asset that cannot be discounted. Fellow starter Tyrell Henderson brings a shot range that allows Corona to stretch the fl oor and be dangerous from anywhere. Duane highly praises Henderson’s defensive tenacity. Depth is important. The Aztecs have received excellent minutes from bench players Isiah Bolden and Saben Lee, prolonging the team’s momentum without much downside. Corona was scheduled to play at Hamilton on Jan. 6 and at home against Mesquite Jan. 8. On Jan. 12 you can catch the Aztecs playing against Shadow Mountain online if you can’t make the game. It is being streamed live from Corona’s gym on AIA365 at arizonasports.com. CdS will play Highland at home Jan. 13. The team’s next game and chance to defeat another top national team will be against Massachusetts’ Putnam Vo-Tech the Hoophall showcase on Jan. 17 in Springfi eld, Mass., home of the Basketball Hall of Fame.