By Eric Newman GSN Sports Writer
The final buzzer sounds, the close group that has played together for nearly six years walks off the court high-fiving and posing for the traditional picture with a trophy.
It’s yet-another quality finish in a local club-basketball tournament.
The players of the Inspire Courts varsity team, based in Gilbert, take a moment to enjoy the victory, but cannot celebrate too long, knowing that the next weekend another challenge waits in another tournament.
Inspire competes well with the state’s top clubs on a regular basis during the summer, when most basketball players who are hoping to be scouted and receive offers from college teams are making the tournament rounds. They’re trying to gain as much exposure as possible.
Coach Albert Ramirez, who has coached several of Inspire’s age and skill levels for nearly five years, and is the coach of NFL YET Academy’s boys’ varsity team that finished 17-10 and reached the AIA 1A playoff semifinals last season, said that exposure and ability to continue playing basketball is exactly what he is aiming to give the kids who come through his program.
“We want to get our kids placed in a college setting. It doesn’t matter what level, from junior colleges to Division 1, or whatever opportunity, we just want to help them succeed however we can and continue their education through sports,” Ramirez said.
Often, kids looking to pad their statistics to impress coaches and scouts tend to focus on offense, specifically scoring and assists.
Inspire takes a different approach.
“All the guys just work really hard on defense, full-court, man-to-man, and we try to trap everything,” Ramirez said. “It’s kind of unique in a way because there’s so many games that some teams don’t do it. They’re worried about getting tired. I have guys in good shape and a bunch of kids on the bench, so I can continue to do that. Some teams only go with seven or eight, but I like having ten or eleven so I can continue to have them hustling when they’re on the floor.”
That all-out defensive style works because, as shooting and scoring can be inconsistent, especially at the high school level, players understand they control their hustle and defensive effort.
Dre’Quan Bryant, a recent graduate of NFL YET, who played under Ramirez, is using the opportunity with Inspire to get summer workouts in before he moves on in September. He said the team’s defensive style allows the group to succeed, even when the top players are struggling on offense, by getting steals that lead to easy baskets in transition.
“For us, our team is just used to pressure. It breaks other teams down mentally, and when it breaks them down, that’s how we get our game back up,” Bryant said.
Another advantage Inspire has, especially in June when many of Arizona’s top teams play grueling high school summer basketball schedules, is that its roster consists of many multi-sport athletes, specifically football players, who may not compete during the summer in a second sport with their high school teams.