An unprecedented season came to a close for the Valley Vista Monsoon boys basketball team Thursday night, as it fell 73-56 to the Mountain Pointe Pride in the first round of the AIA 6A playoffs.
The #11 Monsoon were underdogs coming in, having lost once already this season in #6 Mountain Pointe’s Ahwatukee gym. And the Pride looked superior early, playing a quick, downhill style that allowed their skilled guards and wings to create space and make plays at Valley Vista’s rim.
The Monsoon played a zone that slowed the pace and negated some of the Pride’s transition opportunities, but an onslaught of quick, efficient passes to the outlet on Valley Vista’s misses kept coming and toward the end the Monsoon could not keep up toward the end.
“When teams want to pack it in or slow down the game, it makes every missed shot, it makes every mistake that much more crucial. When you can speed the game up you get more possessions. One, we play better at a high speed, and two, mistakes aren’t as crucial,” Pride coach Kaimarr Price said.
Pride senior forward Zereoue Williams drew a foul as he scored on a right-handed post move for a three-point play on the first possession of the game, showcasing what he would be able to do in the paint on both sides. He played 31 of the 32 minutes, resting only as Price emptied the bench at the end of the game.
He defended the rim effectively the whole game, using his big body and long arms to record three blocks in the opening quarter and several more throughout.
Monsoon senior Demari Hackett did his best to battle on the blocks and scored ten points, but overall Williams’ presence kept Valley Vista away from the paint and settling for jumpshots. Though always behind, the Monsoon did enough to keep the margin close with their outside shooting as they hit nine three-pointers - five from senior wing Elijah Thomas who had a team-high 17 points and three from sophomore guard Aadem Isai.
Valley Vista cut the lead to just three midway through the third quarter, and were down just eight points heading into the fourth. However, the same shots that were falling to keep the game close stopped and Mountain Pointe scored 25 in the final eight minutes to run away with the victory.
“Obviously they have a lot of talent, and they just outlasted us. That’s what it was,” Valley Vista coach Ben Isai said.
Despite the loss, Isai was immensely proud of the way the Monsoon played all season. Battling COVID-19, a shortened slate of games, in-game masks, uncertainty in the length of the regular season and an up-and-down record in the standings, they never wavered.
Through it all, he relied on his senior leaders. Three of the top four scorers in the game were from the class of 2021: Thomas, Hackett and guard Dwight McKnight, who scored nine points. But more than just their production in the playoffs, the senior class was largely responsible for taking Valley Vista from a middling team to the consistent playoff squad it has become recently.
“We talk about how they changed the culture completely at Valley Vista. They’re great in everything, grades, game, character. They’re like brothers. I’m going to miss them,” Isai said.
And while the Monsoon’s season ended in the first round of the playoffs, Thomas added that he was simply happy to get to play basketball at all in 2021. Mere weeks before the season started, there was no certainty that would happen. The AIA even temporarily canceled winter sports.
“I got the opportunity to showcase my abilities one more time in high school before I go to college, I’m grateful we had this season,” Thomas said.
Aadem Isai, who averaged nearly 13 points in the regular season and will likely become the Monsoon’s top scorer and emotional leader as a junior next year, will use this year on and off the court as a learning experience.
His goal, he said, is to help shepherd Valley Vista into an ‘elite’ team that advances deep into the playoffs and competes for championships. He said the adversity the team faced will make it better moving forward.
“We overcame a lot of things this season. COVID, shorter season, everything. Today didn’t turn out as we expected it to be, but in the long run there’s always more things. That brotherhood will help us out in our lives forever,” he said.
“I’m proud to have been here this season and be part of building a new legacy.”
His coach and father, Ben, took several moments after the loss to congratulate his graduating players on great careers and to thank them for their dedication to the team. But, with his talented guard son and several young players eager for their chance, it is likely Isai and the staff will look forward to the 2021-22 season with renewed hope.
“These seniors are a special group, but this isn’t the end of Valley Vista because we have talent coming up as well,” he said.
The Monsoon finished the season 9-8 and placed second in the 6A Southwest Region. This was Valley Vista's second straight appearance in the main draw of the 6A playoffs, after a decade-plus without a postseason win.