This spring club season is unlike any before it for the state of Arizona, as Arizona's top teams and players have prepared for the NCAA spring evaluation period through strong, head-to-head competition in the weekly Arizona Club Basketball League (ACBL), organized by Kenny Mullins, and also the recent Southwest Showcase Main Event, organized by Ron Coleman. These two events have done a great job in preparing Arizona's top prospects for the club circuit this spring.
Each year, Arizona's top teams and players have almost ducked and avoided top-level competition before the spring evaluation period. As a result, Arizona's top club teams have often struggled to get off to a strong start in the spring, while other out-of-state opponents had adjusted to club play much easier.
In Arizona, referees often call the games very close - not allowing for much physical contact, while in California and Vegas the referees often do not call many fouls at all and allow for hard-nosed physical play. As a result, Arizona teams and players often get beat up physcially, as they take valuable time to adjust to the physical play.
This year will look to be much different, as Arizona's top club teams and players have been in preparation for weeks now - beating each other up during the weekly club basketball league and also during the recent Main Event club tournament. Rather than wait to play their first games in April during the all-important NCAA evaluation period weekends, and in front of college coaches, this year, Arizona's top club teams and players will be ready - ready for the physical contact; ready for the speed of the game; ready for the increased intensity level and ultimately, ready for the competition.
As a result of such game preparation, Arizona's top club programs will have an opportunity this weekend to maximize their full potential - providing for each of our top prospects to fair well in front of division-I college coaches. Remember, division-I college coaches do not have time to waist. They may only see a student-athlete perform once, and that may be it. So it is of the utmost importance for a prospect to perform at a level that is worthy of forcing a college coach to return. This is very difficult when a player is not prepared.
I have coached many college players and also such NBA talents as Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics) and Jerryd Bayless (Milwaukee Bucks), and very few players came out of the gates in the spring with stellar performances. While Bayless and Thomas were absolutely on another level in their game preparation and play, even Isaiah Thomas' first game playing for me, he was 1-for-11 from the field. The next game he went for 32 points, but even a future pro struggled out of the gate. Players need to play, and improvement comes through competition - winning or losing.
This spring, I have most admired the play of the Team Bibby club program. Coached by former NBA star guard and Arizona basketball superstar Mike Bibby, this team has been the class of the spring thus far. The team has excellent toughness and grit, and they play to win. They have a nice variety of players - guards and wings. While they lack much true size, they have toughness, as the team has several football prospects that balance things out.
Mike Bibby gives his all every night to make this team successful - something unheard of from former NBA players. While Bibby definitely has a son playing, he has also provided many opportunities for loads of other Arizona student-athletes. I value him and his efforts for that reason. So many other Arizona products that have been successful could care less about Arizona kids - but Bibby does. His team should make us very proud this spring, as they take the road.
The individual player and prospect that I have been most impressed with this spring is Gilbert Christian High School's talented and gifted 6-foot-9 junior post Mitch Lightfoot (University of New Mexico commit). While Lightfoot has already verbally committed to a top-rated college program and also is coming off a state championship season, he has played very hard this spring and has not slowed down one bit. While many prospects before him might decide not to play or to avoid competition, this yougn man seeks it out. He competes each week in the league and also is doing his best to lead his club program, the Arizona Power, to victory.
Recently, in the Main Event, the Power was blown off the court by Team Bibby in the championship game. With just several minutes left to play in the game and his team down by 20+ points, Lightfoot was still competing hard and carrying the torch for his group. I will not let that go unnoticed. It shows extreme character and work ethic. This young man has the potential to be very special one day, and based on what I have seen this spring, he should have a terrific club season.
I look forward to watching Arizona's top club teams and players during this NCAA evaluation period, knowing that this time around I should see our best effort. Thanks to Mullins and Coleman, our players and teams will have the opportunity to be the aggressor this time around and not the bullied.