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For Mountain Pointe basketball, summers aren’t just about AAU competition

Jalen Graham (white striped shorts) reaches for a rebound during Mountain Pointe's summer basketball program. (Photo by Joel Viss/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — High school graduation usually signifies the ending of adolescence and the beginning of a new chapter in one’s life. Mountain Pointe High School’s graduation just happened to land on the same day the basketball’s spring program ended, signifying the start of the summer season.

Mountain Pointe coach Duane Eason believes the summer is where championship teams are made and instills the program’s fundamentals into his players.

“We do a lot of our philosophy stuff, most of our defense and offense foundations in the summer,” Eason said. “The most important thing to me, for the team, is for those guys really building that chemistry together and then after that it’s time to just try to improve them. For me, the summer always is the ticket to the state championship.”

Eason is starting his second season with Mountain Pointe after coaching American History High in Newark, N.J. The Pride went 26-4 and lost in the Division 6A championship game in Eason’s inaugural year and a big part of that is credited to what the team did in the summer leading up to the season.

“We went 34-4 last summer,” Eason said.

Last season the Pride summer program made the final four at Arizona State University’s summer team camp, won the championship at Grand Canyon University’s team camp, and lost in the championship at Arizona Christian University’s team camp. The team also participates in the Central Summer League.

All this happens in the month of June and elevates the risk of burnout or injury for players with so many minutes in such a short amount of time, but both players and coaches expressed no concern for either one to happen.

“I’m dedicated to this sport and I love it,” junior forward DeAndre Henry said. “I have a passion for this sport and I don’t think it will ever burn out.”

“We do a lot of stretches. After we’re done with our workout we do a lot of stretches and before practice we do a lot of stretches,” senior guard Khalid Price said about avoiding injuries. “We’re training ourselves to go full speed, hard, the whole practice so when we get in games we’ll be exactly how we are in practice.”

It’s easy to say and do all these things, but making each individual buy into the program as a new head coach is difficult. Eason, who had a one-season stint at Phoenix College before coming to Mountain Pointe, expects nothing less than 100 percent commitment or a player is off the team, the coach said.

“He, I don’t want to say force, but there’s no other choice really,” senior forward Jalen Graham said. “It was 100 percent work. If you didn’t want to work you either mopped the floor or you left. He just made us work.”

“He just came in and changed the culture from day one,” senior forward Jonah Lebranche said. “Made sure everyone was working hard everyday, getting better everyday.”

“He came right in and just demanded things. That things were going to go his way,” Price said. “He told us the first day he got here we were going to challenge for the 6A state championship.”

Although Eason prepares his team for the regular season during the summer, AAU basketball tournaments take up a big part of the summer as well. Eason believes in trying to make both options work.

“I want these guys in the summer,” he said. “As much as I think there is a little disconnect between high school and club, for me I think July is important for the (club) guys. We try to get as much done here locally so that they are ready to go for July.”

On Mountain Pointe’s basketball website, Eason writes that “club is important for exposure.” Most high school basketball players are receiving offers to play in college by competing in tournaments with their travel teams. Even so, Eason works to get his players looks from college coaches.

“All the time, I know he’s working and getting our names out there,” Labranche said.

“He makes sure we’re good and that we can get the offers that we deserve. He makes sure he talks to the colleges and whatever connection he has, he puts us on with that,” Henry said. “He makes sure that our grades are straight.”

Eason is always in contact with the club coaches, making sure that his players are getting the best exposure possible and being a resource for game film, school grades or anything else the club coach might need.

“I try to get to know the clubs so that we’re picking the right club for each kid,” Eason said. “Some clubs have personal agendas, so I don’t want my kids in there. Other clubs have certain needs, so if one of my guys fits that need I try to lead them there.”

Before AAU tournaments ramp up in July, the team has business to take care of during the summer to prepare them for games in the winter.

Although the team was successful last year, they did not complete their goal of a championship. Now, with the taste of defeat in their mouths and a little less than a year to get back to the championship, the Pride know what they have to do during the offseason to get the title in 2019.

Eason realizes the team had a good offseason last year and expects veteran leaders Price and Graham to take the next step in training to bring home the state title.

“Winning a state championship is more realistic now because they know what they are training for,” Eason said.

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