The Knights of Avondale Westivew are on a mission to prove that they are going to be a contender in Division I boys basketball this season and beyond.
The team has had solid records in the past, but never made it past the first round of the state tournament.
The Knights vow that this year will be different. They are on target to reach 20 regular-season wins again and go beyond the first round. The team was 15-5 after Friday night’s (Jan. 17) loss, when Phoenix Carl Hayden won on a shot at the buzzer.
If the record seems like things have been easy, they haven’t.
Brendan McEvoy took over as head coach after leading nearby Goodyear Desert Edge to the Division II semifinals last season.
McEvoy came in and asked his players for more in terms of academics and being accountable on campus and elsewhere and suggested some changes in the skill sets on the floor for some of the players, most notably senior Isaiah Bellamy and senior forward Andre Adams.
The team also struggled in summer play, winning only about a third of its games and was 0-3 to start the regular season.
“When we started, it was tough,’’ said the 6-foot-9 Adams, who has had scholarship offers from numerous NCAA Division I schools.
“Coach wanted us to become a team, but it was more than that. We became a family. We feel like we have chemistry on and off the court.
“We started to win again, did what we were supposed to do. Everyone says the East side (Valley) “has it,’ but we feel we can show people that the West side can play, too.’’
McEvoy said some people tried to steer him away from Westview, saying he would have trouble getting the players to comply with his wishes.
“It’s really been just the opposite,’’ he said. “It has been, “Yes, sir’ and “No, sir.’ They have been on time and they have accepted the changes.’’
McEvoy thought the 6-5 Bellamy would have better accuracy as a shooter by releasing the ball higher, more above his head, rather than near his shoulder.
“He had a commitment to change, to do what we asked,’’ McEvoy. “Usually it takes about six months to make the full change, but he worked hard at it and it only took about three months.’’
Adams was asked to play more with his back to the basket. He did so. His overall numbers are possibly not as big as they could be, but he has been more consistent in all phases.
“If there’s nothing there when the ball goes in to him, he is good at getting the ball back out (to the perimeter). He has a good sense of what to do,’’ McEvoy said.
When the ball goes back out, Bellamy or senior John Gray can fire the ball home. Gray had three 3-point baskets recently to fuel a victory.
Bellamy said he was uncomfortable with the adjustment to his shot, “but the more I worked on my form, the better it got. After the first couple of games, I started getting my rhythm.’’
Even if Bellamy is off on occasion, McEvoy said he knows when that will occur after releasing the ball and that Bellamy is good at following the ball to the basket and can score off tip-ins.
Bellamy is trying to get college coaches/scouts to notice him, and that is starting to pick up.
Doing the little things to help the team win will help him achieve that goal, McEvoy said.
“Our success will be his success,’’ McEvoy said.
There also is work to do at the defensive end of the floor.
“We have definitely picked it up on defense. I think we can be one of the best defensive teams,’’ said Adams, who recently blocked eight shots in a game. The team also came up with 21 steals in a recent game.
Said Bellamy: “When we play the zone, we get our rotations right and we are good at reading the (opponent’s) pass.’’
Both Bellamy and Adams have done well academically, and Adams made significant progress in a math class.
“Some people thought I couldn’t do it, but my family and close friends and teammates thought I could. They believed in me and that helped me believe in myself,’’ Adams said.
Westview’s team grade-point average is 3.485, McEvoy said.
“It’s not just me and Isaiah. We get everybody involved on the team,’’ Adams said.
Bellamy: “We have a lot of good people who have worked very hard and made a lot of sacrifices for this team. We want to get past the first round and keep on going.’’
Adams said that “We want to go as far as we can take it. We don’t give in.’’