The Camelback Spartans made a big splash on the high school basketball scene with a 5A quarterfinal appearance in last season's state playoffs. During the playoffs, Camelback shocked highly ranked Salpointe in triple overtime despite missing 25 free throws. In the quarterfinals, the Spartans had Carl Hayden on the ropes until the last few minutes of the game before falling.
Brad Pinter, now in his 5th season as head coach, gives all the credit for last season's success to his team. When asked if last season surprised him, Pinter said, "Yeah, it did. Because I felt we were young. You know, I got two sophomores starting, and two juniors and I had one senior. I felt we were pretty young to go a ways. We lost our first two conference games and I thought we just don't have it together. We're young and inconsistent. And finally the kids came together and I don't think it necessarily was anything I did. They came together as a team and started winning. They believed they could win."
Coach Pinter got his start in coaching at Trevor Browne High School under Mike Ellsworth. Pinter coached a couple years each of freshman and junior varsity ball before moving over to Camelback. He received his teaching degree from ASU after attending Scottsdale Saguaro High School where he played basketball for well-known coach, Mike Cady.
Camelback hopes to make another strong run this season and with a senior laden club, prospects are looking very promising. Coach Pinter is very enthusiastic about the coming season.
However, with the majority of Camelback's top basketball players now playing for a highly ranked football team, the Spartans may get off to a slow start this season on the hardwoods. The Spartan football team could play deep into the playoffs. Pinter doesn't mind and explains it this way. "It's good for me at the end of the year," Pinter said. "The kids are tougher and more durable. They're just a lot tougher, mentally and physically …….at the end of the year. Now at the beginning of the year we're not very good……..when you change sports like that. Me and the football coach have a real good relationship and it works good. We really have our kids, almost all our kids, play both football and basketball which is rare in today's school. We have a really good football team and carry it over have a really good basketball team. And that way, we get the best players playing both. So it works out really well for us."
Camelback likely won't be counting on transfer, big man Logan Wolfe this season. Wolfe attended Mountain Pointe last year and due to transfer rules has been declared ineligible by the AIA. Pinter doesn't know if Wolfe will appeal his suspension.
Without Wolfe, Camelback will depend on speed and athleticism. Tyreece Johnson will run the point position for the Spartans. Johnson was a starter all last season as a sophomore. "He's a real good floor general," noted Coach Pinter. James McCaskill will man the two position. Pinter praised McCaskill profusely. "He has come along big. He's really become a great basketball player. James really loves basketball. And that's probably why he's really grown as a basketball player because he's really dedicated to that." Eric Anderson will play the three spot and All-State, 6'4," Thomas Wolfe returns in the paint and will pair up with last season's sixth man, Obie Nnolie, to give the Spartans a strong inside presence.
Coach Pinter said of Nnolie, "Obie was my sixth man last year and was the first guy off the bench. He plays hard. He plays with a lot of passion. He plays the game the way I wish every kid would play it…….with a lot of passion." Nnolie, at 6'1" and 205 pounds, has a football player's body but he and McCaskill are the only team members who stick exclusively with basketball.
Deondre Hills, Greg Yond, and Dijuan Malone, a trio of guards in the 5'7" range, will add great depth outside. They are extremely quick and are seemingly everywhere on the court at once. Steve Ivester at 6"2" will help out inside and Garland Matt at 6"0" can play inside or out.
Johnson and McCaskill are the only juniors on the team, the rest are all seniors.
Pinter pointed out that the seniors went 15-1 as freshman. Pinter tried to keep the group together as they moved up through junior varsity and on to the varsity club. He figures the strategy paid off by saying, "They became close. They win stuff sometimes just because they believe in each other. It's the same in football. That's why they're really together in football in that team unity, and then they come to basketball, and still the same team unity. And I think it's big. It's a big part of team sports, that team unity."
What's it like teaching and coaching at an inner-city school? "Probably the big thing is the kids…..there's no parent involvement at all," said Pinter. "So everything you do, you do on your own. If you want the kids at somewhere, they got to catch the bus to some place or you got to pick them up. Especially in the off season in the summertime, there's no parent to give them a ride anywhere. None of them have vehicles. I don't have one kid who probably even has a driver's license. If they want to play sports then, they can't work, and if they can't work, they can't pay for a car or anything because the parents don't give them any money. So I'd say that's a big part ………… that you have to be like a parent to them in that sense………that you got to make sure they get food and make sure you pick them up and all those things. As far as season fundraisers, you have to do more as a coach. You can't say to the kids ‘go home and have parents take stuff to work and sell it or take stuff to their relatives and sell it.' There just isn't a lot of money for a family. You got to know that going in you're going to spend a lot of your money and your gas and your time doing it. You gotta love to do it and you got to want do it. Otherwise you're not going to last in the city."
We then moved on to the topic of club ball and it's influence upon high school basketball programs. Pinter thinks if all the summer league activity could become non-existent, it would be good for him because it's hard to get all his players together and find a way to finance the activities. In that case, his players could play the club ball circuit and give him some time off. Pinter thinks it's good to give players time away from him and let some other coaches coach them. Pinter feels players start to tune a coach out if there is too much exposure to each other. The subject of finances came up again in that inner city school kids cannot afford to attend player development camps and pay travel expenses. The more wealthy schools in the suburbs are at a clear advantage because of wealth. Pinter feels strongly that high schools coaches should not have contact with their players out of the regular season. But until the system changes, he realizes the benefits of summer league programs to help his team stay competitive.
When asked what his favorite thing about teaching and coaching was, Pinter quickly said, "The kids. You know, I teach math and I enjoy my classroom kids as much as my basketball kids. They're great kids. They're wonderful kids."
When asked about the most unpleasant thing in teaching and coaching, Pinter replied, "Probably just your time commitment." That's understandable as Pinter lives in Gilbert and has two young children to raise.
If he could change one thing about high school basketball, Pinter stated, "I'd like to see a state tournament based on power rankings and every single team make the state tournament. Team sixty could play team one and I think it would make the tournament more exciting. And I'd like to see more publicity for high school basketball."
The Camelback basketball program has been in the spotlight since late last season when the Spartans made the run to the big stage. Pinter's dedication to his students and athletes has paid major dividends. It takes a special person to meet the challenge of teaching in any school, let alone the rough inner city. Pinter's attitude and work ethic are to be highly commended. Watch for the Camelback Spartans to make a very strong run for the state title again this season. A hungry bunch of players led by one of the bright, young minds in coaching, will entertain us all.
***** In my conversation with Coach Pinter I learned something about Thomas Huff. Last season, it seemed like nobody spoke about Huff on the message boards until late in the season. He came out of nowhere to be one of the state's best players. The reason for the early season publicity snub………..well, it turns out Huff was injured in the last game of the football season and had to miss the first nine games on the basketball schedule. That explains why we all got a late start on Huff.