By CASEY MUSE JR.
There are many lessons to be learned from the men’s basketball team this past season. The most important: Never give up, no matter what the situation.
This motto was building for the Aztecs before the season even started. The program viewed itself as a long shot to land hometown player Deion James, who was coming back after one year of Division I basketball in North Carolina.
Head coach Brian Peabody noticed James working out on campus over the summer and offered him a spot on the team. James happily accepted the opportunity to stay home and be the difference on a winning team.
Boom. Never give up, right?
The Aztecs blew out non-conference opponents, and their newcomer looked like a star in the making at the junior college level. The team seemed confident heading into conference play.
That confidence continued through early conference play as Pima continued to win. Then mid-January happened.
The Aztecs suffered a three-game losing streak. Things weren’t going their way for the first time all season.
Oh yeah. Never give up, remember?
Pima began running its offense around Deion, and it worked. He accumulated well over a dozen double doubles and seemed to have a different university scouting him every week.
The Aztecs won eight of their next 11 games and looked like a lock for the regional tournament. Everything was going smoothly once again. Then, during a road game against Mesa, sophomore starting point guard Zach Evans suffered a season-ending leg injury.
Point guard is arguably the most important position on the court, and Evans led the team in assists. This was the most devastating blow that Pima experienced all season.
It did not look good, but the Aztecs didn’t give up.
Freshman Alize Travis stepped into the starting role. He helped lead the Aztecs to their first regional tournament title since 2009 and then on to the national tournament in Illinois. This alone was an amazing accomplishment for a program that was supposed to be rebuilding.
Pima basketball has seen dark days in recent years, but there has been steady improvement every season since Peabody took over as head coach.
The Aztecs embodied their motto once more at the national tournament, when they won in the first round against a team that was practically playing a home game.
In the next round, Pima fell by six points to the No.1 seed in the country but played the team closer than many believed they would. I am so proud to have had an opportunity
to watch this team all season long.
We should all admire the way the Aztecs grew together, fought through adversity and never gave up. Basketball is back on the map, and inspiring students to keep fighting.