Rather than spend his summer practices commuting between Flagstaff and Phoenix, Coconino Panthers head coach Martin Reyes decided to create his own summer basketball league.
Bringing in the varsity teams of Flagstaff, Sedona Red Rock, Page, Camp Verde and Winslow, Reyes put together a collection of competitive girls teams. All state tournament qualifiers ranging from the 4A Conference to 2A, the seven varsity teams allowed for a consistent mix of new opponents.
“We are more of a team trying to find ourselves,” Reyes said of his Panthers, with star guard JJ Nakai graduating from the squad. “We are playing great quality competition, just getting the girls a lot of minutes so they can find who we are going to be as a team.”
Last year, Reyes took his team back and forth to Thunderbird High School in Phoenix while facing off with 6A schools for four weeks. Returning to town around midnight following each trip, which included at least a pair of games, Reyes decided to reach out to coaches in the area during the season to gauge interest in keeping everyone closer to home.
“Talking with Coach (Tyrone) Johnson, Coach (Jerron) Jordan and Coach Ryan (Whitehorse), our mentality is the same,” Reyes said. “We just want girls playing basketball -- working on our stuff, working on their skills, winning basketball games isn't as important. ... We are only as strong as our weakest link. We always want our girls to get minutes and this is a good time of year.”
In addition to the seven varsity teams, Coconino, Flagstaff, Page and Mingus Union had their junior varsity teams playing against each other as well. Looking to get girls on the court as much as possible, Reyes said the gameplans would be a little unorthodox compared to the plans during the regular season.
“You'll see a lot of teams during the summer line change. Play five girls five minutes, play another five girls five minutes,” he said. “It's kind of the thing you see good programs do; they just get girls playing.”
Reyes credited the success of the teams attending to their consistent summer programs, with Coconino recently attending a camp along with Page at UC San Diego against schools from California, Oregon and Texas. Flagstaff played in a camp in Tucson over the weekend. Reyes’ program raised money throughout the year to pay for road trips out of town and to host its own summer league.
Having always been allowed by the AIA to practice as soon as school ends until the first day of football practice, June has constantly been a month to spend time working. While coaches can now coach throughout the year, Reyes said he doesn’t expect every player to be at every practice or game during basketball’s offseason.
“I only had three girls in my entire program that didn't participate in a spring sport,” Reyes said. “Going into the fall, half my program is going to run cross country. You are only in high school for four years; go have fun and do everything you want. I'm hoping other coaches take that kind of view, within Coconino and within the state of Arizona.”