The Tempe Prep men’s basketball team is off and running, having started their 2013-14 campaign in late November. While only winning in three of their five opening contests, and barely missing out in their two losses, the Knights remain poised for a successful season.
In the first game of the year, TPA edged out Phoenix Christian 67-63 in a 2OT thriller, after letting a comfortable late-game lead slip away. Senior Ryan Van Dusen hit three clutch free throws in a row in the first overtime to send the game into a second extra period, in which fellow senior Joseph Zwemke had five points to tie the game and then permanently take the lead.
Zwemke, a center for Tempe Prep, noted that “the very fact [the team] could finish that game shows a huge improvement over the final game last year.” Senior point guard Luke Sandoval also commented that “going to [Phoenix Christian’s] court and winning a double overtime game really showed just how much poise we had, which comes a lot from the Joy Christian game last year.”
In addition to overcoming the shortage of practices together as a team, TPA Coach Lambros felt that “the great thing that came out of the Phoenix Christian game was the way [the players] persevered and the way they kept fighting.”
For their next matchup, the Knights would have to face one of the best teams on their schedule in Arizona Lutheran Academy. Tempe Prep kept up with their opponents throughout the first half, grabbing a three-point lead by the end of the first quarter and trailing only by two at halftime.
But the second half took a turn for the worse for the Knights, in large part due to injuries and foul trouble. Arizona Lutheran capitalized on this, as well as used their height advantage, and outscored TPA by 16 en route to a 63-45 victory.
In Coach Lambros’s eyes, his team “ran out of gas, and it was just a big learning step for us because it was early on in the season.” He added that “we realized how much we needed to work on our defense and our shooting,” and that “the big positive that came out [of the game] was that we know we can hold our own against them. We just need to do it for a full game.”
Zwemke even described the hard-fought battle against ALA as “an even bigger success [than the game before], although the score did not reflect how well we played.” Considering how close Tempe Prep stayed with a powerful team like Arizona Lutheran, Zwemke believes that “with a little hard work we can do wonders.”
The Knights sustained yet another tragic loss in their following game against Tonopah Valley, losing on a last-second basket 45-44. Though facing a team a division ahead, Tempe Prep led the game by four points with about five minutes remaining. In a frantic finish, the game was called by the referees, but 0.5 seconds were put back on the scoreboard because of a questionable travelling call on TPA. Tonopah Valley then tipped in a basket with no time to spare, leaving the Knights shocked.
Yet Tempe Prep effectively rebounded from these setbacks, notching two consecutive victories against Thunderbird Adventist Academy (56-27) and Paradise Honors (61-34), the latter marking the first game on their home court. Encountering zone defenses in these contests, the team, according to Luke Sandoval, focused more “on patience, moving the defense, and making the smart pass.” The senior point guard also noticed in these games how TPA’s “fast-break offense has gradually worn our opponents down.”
Through all these first games and for the rest of the season, Coach Lambros has worked to enforce a team-centered mentality. The key example of this is seen in deliberately not showing his players their statistics from games. “Our whole season this year is dedicated to team, and not individuals”, says Lambros. “If I’m worried about how many points I score or the stats I have, then I’m worried about me [and] not about how the team’s going to be…we want all our focus on team.”
Another team-building strategy that Coach Lambros has implemented is that whenever a player scores a basket, he points to the person who passed it to him. “We’re just thanking the person who could pass it to us, to recognize that they are part of the team and I would never get a shot off if I didn’t get a pass from that person… It’s not about one person’s stats, it’s about how we all do together as a team.”
*Published on December 19th.