Defending state champ Basha takes on new season with no returning starters

Oct 21, 2017, 12:38 PM

Reigning boys basketball state champion Basha Bears begin work on a repeat, Tuesday, October 3, 201...

Reigning boys basketball state champion Basha Bears begin work on a repeat, Tuesday, October 3, 2017. (Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

(Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

CHANDLER, Ariz. – Just seven months ago, the Basha High School boys basketball team hoisted the gold ball trophy after defeating Corona del Sol in the 6A Conference state championship game. In capturing the title, five starting seniors fulfilled a promise they made four years earlier to coach Mike Grothaus.

From the time they arrived at Basha as freshmen, the group vowed it would bring home a state title in its senior season.

“When they came in as a group of freshmen, they were just 14-year-old kids,” Grothaus said. “They were a competitive bunch and that’s what they always told one another. They were not afraid to back down from that. They told everyone they were going to win it their senior year and they were able to uphold it.”

This title was the first boys basketball state championship for Basha and the first state championship for the city of Chandler since 1984. Grothaus describes the legacy those players left behind as “one that will be remembered forever.”

Losing nine seniors and returning only two varsity players, both of which were not starters, the Bears have their work cut out for them this season. Grothaus is tasked with determining a new starting five and placing his players in a position to be successful.

Senior Jared Paulus admits it was difficult to lose so many seniors, mainly because last season’s team gelled so well together. Even with a virtually brand-new roster, Paulus and his team have their sights set on grabbing another state title this year.

“We have the same goals of winning the region and winning the championship,” Paulus said. “We’re working for the same goals.”

The legacy left behind, framed around a dedication to excellence on and off the court, motivates the Bears to accomplish those goals. Perhaps the greatest tangible reminder is the addition of the state championship banner now hanging from the rafters in the gymnasium. With that banner comes an expectation.

“They know what’s expected of them,” Grothaus said, “They know that have to come in every day, put in work, trust the process and be great student-athletes.”

This season, seniors Paulus Bryan Baptiste and Mason Sorensen are aware of the standard they are being asked to uphold. With state championship experience under their belts, these seniors understand what it takes to make it to that elite stage.

Planning to follow the path paved by the seniors of the past, Paulus is determined to be a leader on this team.

“There’s a lot of younger guys, so leading them and setting a good example for the whole team is my goal,” Paulus said.

The team is taking advantage of the off-season. In an effort to strengthen their skills, the Bears spent their fall break conditioning and attending open gym sessions. Sorensen has focused his attention on “dribbling, defense and lateral quickness.”

Grothaus encourages his athletes to work on many aspects of their game, but one thing he continuously preaches is defense. If Basha boys basketball was a term in the dictionary, defense would be its most basic definition. Scoring points can be exciting, but Grothaus and his players alike acknowledge the impact defense can have on the outcome of a game.

“No matter what, defense will always give you a chance to win the game, especially at this level,” Grothaus said, “There are going to be nights when you just don’t shoot it well.”

These fundamentals are something this team can rely on throughout the season, even with such a  young roster. Grothaus said that his team can only hold onto “inexperience” for so long, and now these players are expected to prove themselves.

“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night, and that’s what we want,” Grothaus said, “We look forward to the competition.”

The Bears’ regular season begins on November 28 when they take on Queen Creek.

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Defending state champ Basha takes on new season with no returning starters