Hard 2 Handle
This article appears in the December 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
There are so many good things about senior power forward Lawrence Hill and senior shooting guard Joey Shaw being united for a single season at Deer Valley, thanks to Shaw's offseason transfer from Chandler.
Both are elite Division I recruits — the Stanford-bound Hill is rated the nation's No. 66 recruit in the Class of 2005 and the Indiana-bound Shaw is rated No. 99 by SchoolSports.com — and each is capable of strapping the Skyhawks on his back and carrying the team.
But the biggest upside to this pairing seems to be that both Hill and Shaw are determined to not let too much of a good thing bring Deer Valley down.
"Of course, I was real excited when I heard Joey had moved and was transferring in this year," says Deer Valley third-year head coach John Fellens, 35. "At the same time, you wonder how it's going to mix up the team's chemistry. But he's come in here and just tried to blend in and fit right in. He's one of the guys, and they've taken to him because he's not walking around like he thinks he's better than everyone. He's not expecting to be ‘the guy.'"
That's because Shaw, who averaged 19.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game as a junior at Chandler, knows he doesn't have to be the savior. So the burden shifts from his shoulders (and Hill's shoulders, for that matter) and gets dispersed across the entire roster.
"I just want to win a championship and have the best season I can," says Shaw, 17, a 6-foot-6, 175-pound shooter. "The pressure is on us as a team because we know we have to live up to the hype. That way, I'm not so worried about it personally."
What is particularly nice about Shaw's outlook is how well it complements the Skyhawks' biggest returning star: the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Hill, who averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks per game a year ago.
"We have other players on the team who take a lot of the shots," says Hill, 17. "Both Joey and I are committed (to colleges) for next year already. We're not worried about the numbers. In my game, I don't need the ball in my hands to be effective. Adding him is so important because he has a different taste for the game, but the same goal: He wants to work on winning. We were a contender without him. With him, we're virtually assured a state title if we play like we're capable."
The outlook certainly does look bright for Deer Valley this season, but there is a downside to being so loaded.
The Skyhawks went 25-5 last year — including winning 14 in a row during one stretch — but lost twice to Trevor Browne and exited the Class 5A playoffs in the quarterfinals. Now, after adding a guy who carried Chandler to 17 wins last year, the Skyhawks begin this season as the top team in the state and No. 11 in the SchoolSports.com National Basketball Top 25.
Which means there is one big bull's-eye on everyone's schedule this winter: Deer Valley.
"It's not really the best-case scenario because I think it's a lot harder than if we weren't loaded," says Hill. "It makes teams play harder against us, and the pressure is on us because the only way we can really lose is if we beat ourselves. We're supposed to be the best. And right now, we're a target."
Of course, no one's really complaining. At the end of the day, being the team everybody else is chasing is a nice problem to have. Coach Fellens isn't about to send Shaw back where he came from.
"Having them both allows us to play around and do different things that, without having one or the other, would be hard to do," says Fellens.
For his part, Hill is the type of guy who takes a cautiously optimistic approach to every opportunity that presents itself. And his habit of thinking things through reveals a depth of character that Stanford's staff probably noticed right away.
"I remember going to the NBA Players Association Camp in Virginia in June and seeing so many former players who thought they were the best and who left school early and now they haven't made it," says Hill. "It really drove home what I've been thinking for a long time: You still have to do something after basketball. Even Jordan does. You can't live off your money; you live off what you do."
And though their games are as different as night and day — Hill is a versatile low-post force, while Shaw's rep is as a pure shooter — Deer Valley's newest addition is similarly focused in his day-to-day approach.
"My (Arizona Magic) AAU coach, David Grace, told me a couple years ago to always make sure you do something today that will help you tomorrow," says Shaw. "I mean, not even just with basketball. Just in terms of taking responsibility for yourself and moving in the right direction. Even if you're just talking about doing laundry so you have something clean to wear. Do something today that will help you tomorrow."
With Hill and Shaw in uniform, tomorrow is today for Deer Valley. What's more, with senior forward Eli Davis, senior point guard Jeremy Brooks and junior shooting guard Christian Polk (a Top 50 recruit in the Class of 2006), the deck is stacked even further in the Skyhawks' favor.
The way Fellens sees it, given his versatility, basketball IQ and passing skills, Hill might lead the team in assists this season since there are four other dependable finishers in the lineup. Meanwhile, Shaw's presence and shooting ability from beyond 30 feet creates cavernous gaps inside the arc that Hill and company can exploit.
"What's really good is that we have other people we can go to," says Shaw.
Like we said, there are so many good things about this pairing.