Tag Archives: basketball

Here’s why I love Mets, Cowboys, Jacks & Suns

by Jason Stone

People have sometimes asked me to list my favorite teams. I’ll do it one better. I’ll rank them.

Here are my favorite teams in each sport, with an explanation why.

1. New York Mets (MLB)

The Mets top my list because for some reason they are the only team that still makes me cry as an adult. I am more of a fair weather fan with my other favorite teams (Yeah, I’ll admit it!). But for some reason I follow the Mets from afar no matter how crappy they are — which is most of the time.

I began following the Mets in the late-70s after living in Flushing and visiting there every year. I didn’t really become a big fan until 1983, right as the monster teams were coming. By the time “Doctor K” Dwight Gooden was dominating the world in 1985, I was hooked. And we all know what happened a year later.

I feel the team is on the verge of something special again in the next year or two, but I don’t want to openly jinx it yet. After all, the exhibition games haven’t even started yet.

2. Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

It’s really hard to be a Cowboys fan. Mostly because of the harassment that comes from other people. It’s usually better to keep it on the down low.  But this has been a lifelong love since living outside of Dallas for a good part of my childhood.

They were the first team I was ever exposed to in the late 1970s, and I can’t seem to shake them now — no matter how frustrating the fan experience has become in the Jerry Jones era.

One of my favorite personal moments was being a reporter during Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys beat the Steelers. I got to be in the locker room as my favorite childhood team celebrated their fifth championship.

Unfortunately I kind of made a deal with the football gods that experiencing that was enough.  Twenty years later I’m kinda wishing I never made that deal.


3. NAU Lumberjacks (NCAA — alumni division)

Well, I did drop a lot of money at the place as a student for four years, after all.

Nobody really cares about NAU sports, but for some reason there I am every Saturday in the fall listening to that week’s football game, or picking up whatever midweek basketball game happens to be going on during the winter.

I figure since I actually go out of my way to find NAU content, that must mean they’re high up on my list. I just wish more people cared because it sure is lonely being a fan of a team nobody even knows exists.


4. Phoenix Suns (NBA)

I can’t even watch the NBA unless it’s a Suns game. But I’ve invested so much emotional energy over this team — John F-ing Paxson and Robert F-ing Horry’s hip-check into Steve Nash to name two — that I just can’t bail on them yet.

Because of years of near-misses and the above-mentioned bad fortune, they deserve a championship more than any of the teams that I follow.

The 1992-93 season was the peak. Even living 150 miles away in Flagstaff, cars all over the town had windows painted with support for the Suns. I can’t even imagine what it was like in Phoenix that summer.

If there is anything right in this world, the Suns will win it all — someday.

5. ASU Sun Devils (NCAA — non-alumni division)

I began following the Devils’ football and baseball teams when my family moved to Arizona in 1984. That was just in time to catch the 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl seasons, which were thrilling.

I still think Jake Plummer was ASU’s best player ever, but what do I know. Just seconds away from a national championship in ’96!! Oh, the agony!

As for ASU baseball, I used to love going to those games in high school in what is now former Packard Stadium. I went to most of the home games during the 1990 season. I thought for sure center fielder Mike Kelly was going to be a major league Hall of Famer. I still have never seen a player that good who wasn’t in the majors.

6. Arizona Coyotes (NHL)

I never really followed hockey closely until the Coyotes moved to Phoenix in the mid-1990s. Prior to that I had always lived in places that didn’t have hockey, and before the Internet, you needed a local team to get any kind of regular content in the daily newspapers.

So, I adopted the team that was the Winnipeg Jets, who became the Phoenix Coyotes, and then this season, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes’ playoff run to the Western Conference Finals three years ago was about as fun of a couple weeks of sports as I’ve ever experienced. Anxiety was high during every game. I would pace up and down aisles at sports bars — and even got to see a couple of the games in person for their famed “White Out.”

7. USA men’s soccer team (other division)

This is a weird one, I know. Not to sound non-patriotic but I don’t generally care if any USA teams or athletes win anything in the Olympics or whatever. I figure, we dominate everything anyway, what does it really matter if we win another.

It’s different with the U.S. men’s soccer team, though. They are still the ultimate underdogs. (I mean, U.S. fans are typically out-numbered even in home games!) Plus, every four years there is a team to root for in the World Cup, which is probably my favorite non-annual sporting event.

Best of the Rest

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

It’s much easier to be a Cardinals fan since they moved out of the NFC East more than 10 years ago. It was an unbelievable month in January 2009 when it appeared for about 51 seconds that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl. It still seems weird that they were THAT close. I have seen most of this team’s games since they moved to Arizona in 1988, so it’s hard not to like them.

Texas Rangers (MLB)

I don’t follow them on a day-to-day basis, but from the late-70s until the early-90s they were my favorite team, alongside the Mets. This was back in the days when you could have a favorite in both the American and National leagues.

Teams I Used To Like

Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

Before moving to Phoenix, I was a big Mavericks fan during their first three or four seasons in the league. Of course, they were the worst team in the NBA during that time, so I never got to enjoy them winning anything. And since I became a big Suns fan, they became the enemy quickly.

New York Yankees (MLB)

I liked the Yankees for exactly one year. During the 1981 season, I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium, which just so happened to be the first game after the infamous players’ strike that year. Between 1977 and 1981, the Yankees played the Dodgers three times in the World Series, and because I identified with the East Coast more at the time, I sided with the Yankees. Of course, the one time I root for the Yankees is the one time they don’t win.

Phoenix Giants/Firebirds (MiLB)

Yeah, I actually had a favorite minor-league team back in the day.  The Giants (later named the Firebirds) were the AAA affiliate for the San Francisco Giants and they played their games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium when the first pitch temperature was usually around 107 degrees. The best part of those games: the nachos! I can still taste them 30 years later.

high schools

Deer Valley boys fall short of state title

by Jason Stone

Deer Valley boys basketball coach John Fellens said his team would one day smile when looking back at the accomplishments of the 2004-05 season.
“It just might take a few days,” Fellens said.
Frustration and sadness were the prevailing mood last Friday after the Skyhawks lost out on their dreams of winning a 5A state championship at Glendale Arena.
Deer Valley battled top-seeded (Mesa) Mountain View to overtime in the 5A semifinals before losing 54-47 in front of more than 4,000 fans.
“You live by the 3-(pointer) and you die by the 3,” Fellens said. “At the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime, that’s what happened.”
Deer Valley shrugged off a slow start — the Skyhawks trailed by 10 in the first half — to rally for a lead it held most of the second half.
The Skyhawks were up by four with the ball with more than a minute to go in regulation, but an ill-advised missed 3-pointer led to points for Mountain View on the other end.
The Toros then tied the game, to force overtime. Deer Valley could not buy a shot in the extra four minutes and was forced to foul the Toros late in overtime to provide the final margin.
It was only Deer Valley’s second loss of the season. The Skyhawks were trying to win the school’s first state championship in the sport with seniors Joey Shaw (bound for Indiana) and Lawrence Hill (Stanford).
“We had a special season and the players will appreciate what we did,” Fellens said. “But this hurts.”
The Toros wrapped up the championship by beating St. Mary’s in the finals.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 10, 2005

high schools

Hawks claim school’s 1st boys basketball title

by Jason Stone

When Mark Nold took over the Apollo High School boys basketball program four years ago, the cupboard was so bare, it didn’t even have doors.
The Hawks, once one of the most competitive programs in the state in the 1980s and ’90s, won only two games in Nold’s first season, and the once-proud program was turned upside-down.
But Nold had a plan — more specifically a four-year goal. The team didn’t talk about state championships, just teamwork and playing respectfully.
4c50a16341ee7.imageAfter the Hawks beat Santa Rita 60-48 for the 4A state championship Monday at Glendale Arena, Nold and his players can talk about winning the state championship the rest of their lives.
“This feels even better than I expected,” said senior Monti Washington, who scored 18 points to help the Hawks to the 4A title. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Apollo’s rise to the top was as impressive as it was sudden. After Nold’s first season, which included no wins in region play, the Hawks systematically rose.
Apollo went 13-13 in Nold’s second year, then won 21 games last year before being eliminated in the first round at state.
With junior Tristan Wilson, a possible All-State performer when teams are announced, and Washington, a transfer from Tolleson, leading the way, Apollo tied Greenway for the Desert Sky Region title, then rolled through state with wins over Nogales, Coronado, Glendale and Santa Rita.
“Words can’t describe how this feels,” Nold said. “We had a four-year goal to turn this program around, and I’m so proud of what these kids have accomplished.”
Wilson, who is only a junior, was dominant at times this year, including scoring 13 second-half points to help slow down a Santa Rita rally when Apollo had appeared to put the game out of reach.
Apollo raced out to a 22-9 lead in the first half on a Wilson dunk — the only slam of the game — and it appeared Santa Rita was done. But the Eagles fought back with seven straight points — part of a larger 11-1 run — to cut the deficit to three.
With a five-point lead at the break, Apollo tallied eight straight points to start the second half and appeared to have the game wrapped up again. But like the first half, Santa Rita went on another big run, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to trail by four. But Apollo’s defense buckled down, turning steals into fastbreak points in transition. Apollo rattled off 10 straight points from the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth to wrap up the title.
Hawks fans counted down out loud the final seconds and Apollo’s bench stormed the court at the buzzer to celebrate in front of more than 4,000 fans.
“Around January, we had a team meeting because we were getting a little too arrogant,” Wilson said. “We had a big loss (to Greenway) and I think that’s the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Since that game, Apollo played nine times and never lost. For the eight seniors who played their last game, they’ll never lose as a Hawk again.

high schools

Glendale’s future bright after Final 4

by Jason Stone

They lost by 37 points, but Glendale High boys basketball coach Scott Stafford saw a glimmer of hope for the future.
For a six-minute stretch of the third quarter in the 4A boys basketball semifinals, Stafford played a lineup with no seniors.
During the span, the Cardinals played Apollo, the eventual state champions, straight up, allowing the future to shine a little more brightly on the program.
If their future is indeed bright, the present must be blinding.4c50a15ca717f.image
Not since 1985 had a Glendale team advanced this far in state.
The Cardinals were eliminated from state title contention with an 88-51 loss to Apollo at Glendale Arena, but Stafford thinks good things are still to come for his program.
“I went and looked up all the old records and found that we haven’t had more than 10 wins in the last 18 years,” said Stafford, who is in his fifth season. “Hopefully, this gets the program going. Before, if we got a good player, he’d want to leave to go to a ‘basketball school.’ Now, they know they can stay here.”
Junior D.J. Nicholas, one of 4A’s premier players, will be back for his senior season, leading to more optimism.
Nicholas’ leadership helped the Cardinals surprisingly win the Skyline Region title when other programs such as McClintock, Thunderbird and Sunnyslope were seen as having a better shot at it before the season.
But Stafford said for Glendale to compete at the elite level of the state, his team needs to gain some toughness.
“It was a physical game (against Apollo),” Stafford said. “And we have to rely on officials to make calls. When they don’t make calls, we’re hurt. We just need to learn to play more physical.”
Stafford was ejected in the fourth quarter against Apollo after running on to the court to complain about a charging call.
But, by then, the game had been decided anyway.
Still, Stafford said playing Apollo in front of 4,000 fans at Glendale Arena was a positive experience for his program.
Another bright spot for the Cardinals was the championship performance of senior William Nosie in the state 3-point shootout.
It was the second shootout win for Nosie, who also achieved the feat as a sophomore at America West Arena.

Published at glendalestar.com • March 3, 2005

high schools

Ironwood has sights set on state tourney

by Jason Stone

The Ironwood High School boys basketball team is an attraction wherever they go, but it is not because of their basketball talent — although that is a worthy enough reason to take notice of the Eagles.
Each night on the road, Ironwood’s starting center Austen Powers is announced over the public address system and the team hears laughs from the crowd and random screams of “Yeah, baby!”
“A lot of people focus on him because of his name,” said senior Robert Cuthbert. “They should focus on him because he’s good.”
The 6-foot-7 Powers has become a power this year, shrugging off any comparisons to his famous movie character namesake with one glance at his big body.
And all it takes is a few minutes to realize that Ironwood as a whole is not the same team that faded down the stretch of seasons past.
With eight seniors on the team — including a pack of solid shooters and what senior David Beale calls “a good mix” of players — Ironwood has raised a few eyebrows in the early season.
The Eagles have started the season 11-3 with their only losses coming in tournaments. Ironwood is 8-0 in regular season games as the Desert West Region season begins this week.
“I think we’re seeing their experience,” coach Rick Dunn said about his team’s fast start. “Plus, they all know each other. They’ve been playing together four years.”
Ironwood’s experience is one factor in its resurgence. But the team changed its philosophy a bit in the offseason.
Like the Phoenix Suns in the NBA, the Eagles are moving the ball up the court faster than they have in recent years.
With Powers and 6-foot-8 Tyler Montgomery last year, the Eagles played more of a slowed-down, half-court game.
The results weren’t always pretty, though, as the Eagles went 12-15 and suffered through of tough season of finger-pointing.
“We played a lot of ‘me’ ball last year,” Dunn said. “Consequently, we lost games.”
Cuthbert said stronger friendships this year have led to better team chemistry.
“We didn’t get along too well last year,” Cuthbert said. “We had too many individuals. This year we have a good mix. We have star players, but we’re also a good team.”
Montgomery’s graduation left the Eagles a bit shorter this year, so with a roster full of athletic players, Dunn has had the team running more on offense and playing pressure defense.
The Eagles have also developed an inside-out game. When Powers draws double teams near the basket, it has been freeing up shots for the outside shooters.
The results are now showing in the team’s win-loss record.
“We’ve got some good shooters, so if they’re making the shots, sometimes that leaves Austen open 1-on-1.”
It is a formula that has been working all season. Yeah, baby.

Published at glendalestar.com • Jan. 13, 2005