One of the more interesting studies to break down in the high school basketball scene is how a team goes about preparing for its opponents and setting its season goals, especially when it plays a difficult schedule filled with national competition.
Gathering film, creating scouting reports and knowing the tendencies of out-of-town opponents is much easier nowadays with HUDL and Crossover film and the advent of social media, which is filled with countless highlight tapes of America’s top talent and allows coaches to communicate freely through direct messaging and expedite the process of exchanging film.
Take Pinnacle high out of Phoenix (Ariz.) for example, the team led by five-star point guard and Arizona-bound point guard Nico Mannion which has been through a rollercoaster the last few days.
Last Friday the Pioneers won an epically emotional game against in-state rival and FAB 50 No. 18 ranked Shadow Mountain, 82-80, on a last second half-court shot banked in by Mannion only to fall Tuesday night from a lesser-known, but equally tough Phoenix team in Mountain Pointe, 76-59.
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“It was a big game and we were feeling good, but they wanted it more,” Mannion said of Tuesday’s let-down. “Mountain Pointe is a good team with two good bigs and they killed us.”
Pinnacle had Wednesday to recuperate from its crazy last six days, but its schedule doesn’t get any easier as it takes on Jalen Green-led Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial Thursday on ESPN2 (9 pm ET) and FAB 50 No. 23 Temecula (Calif.) Rancho Christian headlined by the Mobley brothers, Isaiah and Evan, on Saturday (9 pm ET) at the three-day Hoophall West at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral.
“We have a little gauntlet here,” Pinnacle coach Charles Wilde said. “We just try to keep everything the same, whether it's a big rivalry game or a state championship, we try to keep our emotions in check and treat it like we’re going to work.”
Coach Wilde has the benefit of having a player like Mannion who has played on plenty of big stages and in highly-touted individual match-ups throughout his travel ball career. Mannion’s experience in those types of games is something that he shares with his teammates.
“We just have to lock in,” Mannion said of Pinnacle’s next two games. “We had a good practice today and put in some new things, but we match up with San Joaquin Memorial really well. Saturday will be hard because of Rancho Christian’s bigs. Playing on ESPN is cool for the team because not everyone gets to be on that big stage.”
As far as game-planning specifically against top echelon talent, Wilde believes there is no special philosophy that follow.
“You’re just trying to slow them down and make sure that you try to take away their best moves,” he said. “You have to make their other players beat you and it’s basic stuff that you have to find and scout them on.”
The ultimate goal with putting together a tough schedule, according to Wilde, is not to search out appearances on ESPN or gain an extra layer of exposure, but instead to prepare his team for a long postseason run.
“Everyone’s goal is a state championship and we can learn from what we did Tuesday night,” he said. “We had a poor shooting third quarter and we let it affect us on the defensive end.”
And as Mannion pointed out, Pinnacle had seven losses heading into the 2018 postseason before running the table en route to a AIA Conference 6A title, winning the championship 77-60 over Mountain Pointe.
Regardless of the outcome Pinnacle’s games Thursday and Friday, the Pioneers are focused on their long-term goal of winning a state title and a more short-term goal of showing just how far basketball in the state of Arizona has come.
“It’s good for Arizona basketball,” Wilde said. “You’re finding out that there are good teams like us, but also other teams, like Mountain Pointe, that have talented kids.”
“The kids are working,” Mannion added. “There’s no secret to being good and you can tell kids train every day. It’s good for the state. A lot of people don’t think its a good basketball state, but if you put a starting five of Arizona kids together, we can compete with any state.”
Postscript: Pinnacle Bounces Back In Big Way
On Thursday night, it was an ideal scenario for Pinnacle and Arizona high school basketball fans curious to get a look at talented junior Jalen Green and his team at San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, Calif.). The locals wanted to see if all the hype was warranted...and see Pinnacle bounce back from the loss to Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.).
The fans got what they wanted, as Green and Pinnacle's Nico Mannion went Mano a Mano to begin the game and Pinnacle came away with a 90-69 victory at Scottsdale's Chaparral High School. Both elite guards were on fire in the first quarter, hitting a variety of deep jumpers and scoring on drives to the basket. Green, arguably the nations' top 2020 guard prospect, started the game with a dunk, while Mannion hit a 3-pointer.
Green scored the first 18 points for San Joaquin Memorial (2-2) and between both players, they made seven of their first eight three-point attempts. Mannion had 20 points in the first period, and Pinnacle (7-1) led 29-21, as Green finished the quarter with 18 points. Both players cooled a bit in the second quarter, as the Pioneers took a 49-33 lead at halftime. At that point, Mannion had 23 points and Green 21.
The Panthers cut their deficit to as low as 11 points (62-51) but eventually Pinnacle pulled away and got its lead over 20 points (70-54) with 6:12 remaining in the game on a driving lay-up by junior Marcus Libman. Both Mannion and Green finished with 33 points apiece, but the Arizona-bound "Red Mamba" was satisfied with how his team played defensively versus Green and how the team bounced back.
"I thought it was big for us to win this game," Mannion said. "We didn't want to let Jalen beat us, and even though he scored alot of points, we did a good job on him in the second half.
"After we beat Shadow Mountain, Mountain Pointe wanted it more than us. We came out flat and didn't play well. Right now, we're not worried about our won-loss record. Of course, we want to have a good record, but we more importantly want to peak in February."
Mannion also stated how his reclassifying back up to the 2019 class and committing early to the University of Arizona has helped his approach and Pinnacle's fortunes.
"After I committed, everything has been easier," Mannion said. "I'm comfortable in my decision and it allows me to be comfortable playing my game. I'm stoked and can't wait to get up there (at Arizona)."
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