Combs MBB Experiencing Growing Pains: Three things we learned

2 years ago Andrew Luberda 0

For at least the first half of the Friday, Jan. 19, game at Thunderbird High School the Combs’ basketball team looked like a 16 – 4 team, not a team with only four wins entering the contest against the Chiefs. During the second half, however, the Yotes’ inexperience and lack of height were exposed, as Thunderbird went on to a 70 – 62 victory.

Dylan Alderman puts up a jumper during the game versus Thunderbird on Jan. 19. Photo: Kelli Luberda

“The way we started was fantastic,” Combs head coach Ben Johnson said to after the game. “They made some adjustments to pound the ball inside and I think they wanted a little bit more than we did.”

“We only have one player – Dylan Alderman – over six feet tall and we’re young – we played four sophomores (in the game).”

Combs jumped to early 7 – 0 and 15 – 3 leads during the opening minutes of the first quarter. Junior guard Austin Prater scored 11 of the Yotes’ first 15 points, including nine from behind the three-point arch.

“We came out hitting shots that we haven’t been,” Johnson said. “We came out playing as a team, having fun, which is what our focus has been.”

Combs Leaderboard

Points:  Austin Prater – 17, Gary Lee – 13, Dylan Alderman – 10, Isaac Arrollado

Assists:  Prater – 3, Arrollado – 2

Rebounds – Alderman – 4, Arrollado – 3



Three things we learned:

Gary Lee. Photo: Kelli Luberda

Vertically challenged – The Coyotes are typically outsized by their opponents, as evidenced by Thunderbird hitting the glass and getting the ball to players on the block. Another result of the height disadvantage was the Yotes’ inability to the stop dribble – in transition as well as half-court defense. “We played a lot of zone tonight, which is to stop the dribble in the middle,” Johnson explained. “The problem was they just threw over the top of us and got it in the corner.”

Austin Prater (5). Photo: Kelli Luberda

No substitute for experience – The Coyotes are clearly in a rebuild, which is understandable considering the sustained success of the famed Fauske Five State Runner-up team of 2014-15. Three players on that squad – Josh Allen, Skylar Johnson and Clayten McCarthy – were only sophomores then and locked down three of the five starting spots for the last two years. As a result, the Yotes are lacking experience this season and it shows, especially when it comes to knowing how to close out games in crunch time. “Gary Lee is our only player with any varsity experience and he was a backup,” Johnson said. “Five new starters are hard to deal with, but some of the young guys are starting to come forward and we have good leaders, so we’re getting there.”

Combs first-year head coach Ben Johnson (center) gives his players direction during a timeout. Photo: Kelli Luberda.

Prater is worthy – The No. 5 jersey has special significance in the history of Combs basketball. It’s the number that was worn by Coach Johnson’s son Drew, the starting point guard on the Fauske Five team. Following Drew’s senior season, then head coach Kirk Fauske announced a new annual award – The Drew Johnson Leadership Award – presented to a player or coach who displayed outstanding leadership throughout the season. Drew was in the inaugural recipient and his dad earned the award a year later. Junior Austin Prater wears the number now and he’s proving to be worthy of the honor. Prater was a unanimous selection by his teammates to be a team captain. “He puts in more work than anybody,” Johnson said. “Physically, he shouldn’t be as good as he is – he’s 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9, shoots slow, but he makes them. He’s a great leader. He’s the hardest working kid we have, never leaves the gym. He gets there at 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game to put shots up. The other kids see that and feed off it.”