Like most teams with several returning players, Silverado’s boys basketball squad expected to improve this season.
Not that improving would be hard. The Skyhawks were a dismal 1-23 last season, losing their final 23 games.
But Silverado did more than just add a couple victories. The Skyhawks went 18-8 and earned a home game for the Division I Sunrise Region tournament, which begins Wednesday night at host sites. Silverado plays Green Valley at 6:30 p.m. The Sunset Region and Division I-A Southern Region tournaments also begin Wednesday.
“To be honest, it wasn’t half as high as they are right now,” senior guard Kris Coe said of the team’s preseason expectations. “We were just trying to get better from last year. But with our new coach, he worked us harder than we were expecting and we ended up being a lot better than we thought.”
Silverado lost its season opener to Coronado on Nov. 30, but bounced back with a road win at Bonanza two days later. The Skyhawks then competed in the Legacy Tip-Off Classic, and by the end of the season’s first week had won four games.
“We were going to try to flip everything around because of so much negative attitude last season,” senior guard Jordan Waugh said. “We just wanted a positive record this time. It was a lot of hard work to put in over the summer.”
First-year coach Shelby Jones said the team’s come-from-behind 59-57 win over Green Valley on Dec. 10 really convinced the players that they could do more than just win a few games.
“We were down for a good portion of the game, got fortunate enough to get back in it and then won it at the buzzer on a shot by (Matt) Arnold,” Jones said. “After that game, it was kind of like ‘We can compete with anybody.’ You could almost see the whole mentality change. We expected to win games.”
Jones, who had previously coached in Arizona and Illinois, wanted to be a man-to-man defensive team, but instead started to utilize a 3-2 zone.
“We kind of went to it, and it’s kind of been our thing now for the rest of the year,” Jones said. “If you look at the points per game that we’ve allowed, most teams score fewer against us. I think it’s our length, and contesting shots, and putting a premium on getting your hand sup and limiting the other teams to one shot.”
With four starters standing either 6 feet 3 inches tall or 6-4, Silverado has utilized its length and interchangeable parts to become a strong defensive team. The Skyhawks allow an average of 53.5 points. Last season, Silverado allowed an average of 72.5 points last season, including a season-high of 104 against Las Vegas.
“Our defense has really changed a lot this year,” Arnold said. “Last year, we were letting teams score 80 to 90 points a game on us. Now we’re holding teams to 40 to 50 points a game. That helps a lot.”
The team also is interchangeable on offense, with players that can play inside and out. The Skyhawks don’t have anyone among the area’s scoring leaders, with Arnold leading the team at 10.7. Tyric Johnson (9.9), Coe (7.7), Errol Newman (7.5) and Devin Ross (6.8) all are capable scorers.
“They’ve got to watch all of us,” Coe said. “There’s nobody on our team that really separates themselves. And that’s not a bad thing at all. We all just play as a team.”
Those five players along with Waugh and Trevor Bubanovich have been the team’s top scorer in at least one game this season. And Jones thinks that balance and unselfish style makes his team difficult to defend.
“It’s hard to plan against a team that has multiple weapons,” Jones said. “We share the ball pretty well. We don’t have a selfish guy on the team. We don’t have a guy that really cares about who gets the glory, and that helps.”
Jones said the team’s willingness to work has been its biggest key to success. He said Coe and Elijah Toussaint didn’t miss a summer workout even though the team packed in more than 50 after Jones took over at the start of July.
Others, like Arnold, weren’t as sure they wanted to be part of the program after a miserable season last winter. Jones is glad he was able to change Arnold’s mind.
“I told him this year is going to be better,” Jones said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to believe in what we’re doing and we need you.’ He came to me at one point and said, ‘I’m in,’ and he hasn’t missed a thing since. He’s the guy that makes us go as much as anybody. By him coming back and believing in the thought of a better season, it’s kind of propelled us.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters