Defense the key to Tigers boys hoops season

<p> Stanfield Tiger basketball players scrimmage during a drill at practice Friday morning. Stanfield is coming off four consecutive trips to the 2A state tournament.</p>

In four consecutive trips to the 2A state boys basketball tournament, the Stanfield Tigers have never advanced past the quarterfinals.

This season, they mean to change that.

“We’ve had our fair share of success in the recent past,” head coach Daniel Sharp said. “By no means have we dominated, but each year we get to state with a new group of kids. The new players come in each year with that level of expectation.”

The recent run of success has changed the culture of the Tigers’ program.

“There were pretty low expectations here for awhile,” Sharp said. “We weren’t getting to districts or even competing in games. Over the course of the last few years we’ve been able to change that mind set. The kids have really bought into what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Tigers lost six seniors from last year’s team, which finished fourth in the Blue Mountain Conference with a league record of 10-6.

“We had a good group of kids last year,” Sharp said. “They were a defensively minded bunch, but most of our offensive firepower is actually coming back.”

Sharp said scoring won’t be an issue for his team this season, but defense may be.

“Can we stop anybody?” Sharp asked. “That will be key to our entire season. My biggest concern is being able to defend. We lost some great defenders from last year’s squad, and we’ll need some guys to step up in that regard.”

The Tigers return four players with significant varsity experience. They include three-year letterman Bryce Linker, Adrian Angel, Izak Gonzalez and Joseph Valadez.

Sharp said those four seniors have been successful in the past, but they want to go even further as this is their last year with the team.

“We’ve been to the final eight three times and have lost out from there,” he said. “Our guys have worked hard throughout the summer and fall to overcome that hurdle this season. That’s what everyone is shooting for, especially this group of seniors.”

The Tigers changed their summer workout philosophy in the offseason to give them a better chance of succeeding this year.

While the players attended team camp they chose not to participate in many summer league contests.

Instead, they spent that additional time in the gym to improve their shooting.

“At the end of last season I told our guys we needed to shoot better,” Sharp said. “We spent countless hours this summer honing our technique. There are some kids out there that have really improved over the course of the summer. The hard work has paid off.”

Stanfield also had 34 students turn out for the program this year, a number that pleases Sharp.

He said, whereas in past years the team has only been able to field two teams, this season, the Tigers will have a varsity, junior varsity and a C team.

“The huge turnout is great,” Sharp said. “I’m glad the school allowed us to have a C team this season. It gives more guys the chance to play, have some fun and improve.”

The Tigers open their season Dec. 6 at a tournament at Mac-Hi with their home opener not coming until the middle of December.

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