Paradise Honors picks apart Valley Christian


This time, with this team, Paradise Honors boys basketball never allowed Valley Christian a glimmer of hope.

These teams split four games last year but the Trojans picked up the decisive win in the 3A semifinals. None of it carried over to the Latitude Longitude Classic Jan. 11 at St. Mary's Catholic High School in Phoenix.

Paradise Honors (13-5 overall, 6-4 regular season) led 10-0, 20-10 after one quarter, 41-18 at halftime and 53-28 after three quarters en route to a 69-44 rout.

"We wanted to come out and set the table. We wanted to let them know that we're a different team and that it's going to take a special night for somebody to beat us," Paradise Honors coach Zach Hettel said.

Sophomore guard Nate Pickens led all scorers with 22 points while junior point guard Jalen Scott added 20 points and five assists.

Senior Jerry Iliya, typically a wing but often playing the post on this guard-dominated team, pitched in with 12 points and seven rebounds.

This year's Panthers start Iliya and four guards - Pickens, Scott, junior Wyatt Bell and sophomore guard Blessing Nwotite - provide a versatile mix of ballhandling, slashing, creativity and shooting that makes them harder to defend than last year's bigger squad.

"I love being a part of this team. We're moving the ball and setting up open threes. It's a lot of fun," Pickens said.

Valley Christian (15-2 overall, 9-1 regular season) entered this game ranked No. 2 in 3A behind Page. Paradise Honors was No. 8 though that and its regular season record are a bit misleading.

Three of those defeats were on the regular-season schedule at the hands of well-regarded teams from other states. Chinle is the only 3A team to knock off the Panthers.

Valley Christian passed an earlier test from No. 3 American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek. But it had not faced an opponent with Paradise Honors' athleticism. 

Hettel wanted his team to limit the Trojans' three-point prowess and force them to drive. Mission accomplished. Senior guard Jackson Risi made three from distance, but tkhat was it for Valley Christian..

"It was just about trying to keep them away from their spots. We wanted to keep them out of the middle of the floor. We didn't want Logan to get into  the middle. We'd rather make him try to attack us with his right hand," Hettel said. "They made a couple tough shots and we just lived with them. We didn't think they'd be able to make those kind of shots all night."

Senior wing Logan Phillips entered the game averaging nearly 25 points per game. He finished with a team-high 20. Risi, a transfer from Phoenix Desert Vista who just became eligible, was the only other double-figure scorer with 14.

The Panthers schedule has slowed down to the point where they can practice more and watch film, which helped in preparation for this showdown.

Conversely, Paradise Honors can attack with junior guart Wyatt Bell, Iliya, Pickens or Scott. Sophomore guard Blessing Nwotite is usually out there for defense, but sometimes gets in the act.

"We're way more guard oriented and when we're able to go with Jerry as the big, we create mismatches in the post. We've got three guys that can space the floor, even Blessing who didn't make one tonight can shoot," Hettel said. "Last year we did a lot of dribble drive and standing around. This year it's a lot of motion and I think it just wears on people over 32 minutes."