Ever since Carson High’s boys basketball team sailed through the crossover portion of its league schedule unscathed, there has been a big target plastered on its back.
Everybody wants to be the first to knock the Senators off their unbeaten perch. The players know it, and while they admit there’s pressure to being undefeated, they embrace playing in big, important games.
This is the scenario veteran coach Carlos Mendeguia had in mind when he set up what was a pretty daunting schedule for his team. It included playing doubleheaders (league and Rail City Classic games) two times in a week, playing in the Crusader Classic, and playing in the Jerry Tarkanian Classic.
Mendeguia knew there would be some losses early on, but he also knew the tough schedule would help his group for the league season.
The Senators have faced their share of obstacles in clicking off 11 straight wins (17-5 overall), but they have stayed the course.
“They have played a lot of basketball together,” Manogue coach Ralph Fields said. “You can tell they have been together for a while. We have kids that have played a lot of ball, but not in our system.”
The secret to Carson’s success is simple. Hard work and, at times, suffocating defense whether the Senators are playing a 2-3 zone, man-to-man defense or trapping teams in the half court.
“They are very disciplined and play great defense,” Douglas coach Corey Thacker said recently.
Defense is about desire. You don’t have to be the best athlete in the world to be a good defensive player. You just need some toughness and desire. You have to want to play defense, and if you don’t, Mendeguia makes sure playing time is limited.
“I think we work harder than any other team in the league,” junior forward Jayden DeJoseph said. “We are always prepared when we go out there. Our defense helps set the tempo of the game. We prepare so hard for every single game. We focus on playing hard and trying to do our best. We know we’re getting everybody’s best effort out there.”
If there was a shot clock in Nevada, no doubt Carson would force teams to use most of it on each and every possession. The Senators grind teams down with their tenacity on the defensive end of the floor.
“Defense is our staple,” junior forward Jace Keema said. “We’ve done a really good job defensively so far. I don’t think we’d be undefeated if not for our defense.”
Defense is something that has kept Carson in games. Even when Carson is struggling to score points, the Senators have stayed in games because they have the ability to get stops, and that’s how you make comebacks.
Case in point was the Galena game. The Senators trailed 32-22 with six minutes left in the third quarter, and proceeded to rally and beat the Grizzlies, 60-54.
After that game, forward Tez Allen said there was never a doubt Carson would come back.
“We trust each other,” Allen said.
The Senators boast chemistry, and that’s not surprising. Several members of the team have played basketball together since they were in elementary school, and they also played against each other in middle school and in youth baseball.
“We have good chemistry,” DeJoseph said. “Everybody gets along with everybody for the most part. We play as a group out there. We are a very unselfish team.”
Point guard Jared Rooker leads the team in assists with 81, but Allen, a great passer for a big man, is right behind at 79.
“We all played on the Nets (a local travel team),” Keema said. “We’ve played a lot of basketball with each other, and we know how the others play. We have confidence in each other, and that’s why we know we can come back when we get behind. We know how dangerous we can be.
“I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball. We keep it light hearted when it needs to be, and we’re serious when we need to be. We have each other’s backs out there.”
Much of the credit for any in-season success goes to the Senators’ summer program. Mendeguia and assistant coaches Jeremiah Gray and Dick Lee keep the players busy while working around football and baseball games/practices.
“We start building over the summer,” Mendeguia said. “We play a lot of basketball in a short span of time, and some of the kids even play club basketball after our summer season is over. The Wolverines do a good job of working around our summer program.
“The summer is where kids learn the system, and it’s where we put in new stuff.”
The Senators also can score the basketball.
Asa Carter, DeJoseph and Allen all average between 13 and 14 points per game, and Keema and Rooker are at 6 and 5, respectively.
Carson’s philosophy on offense is to get the best shot possible, and usually that’s within 15 feet of the basket. Carson doesn’t shoot a lot of 3s, but when you execute like the Senators, 3-pointers aren’t needed.
Carson likes to grind it offensively. In the motion offense, the Senators can click off 30-50 seconds off the clock on every possession.
“We have guys that can shoot the 3-pointer,” Mendeguia said. “We’re always looking for the best shot, and that usually is a lot closer to the basket.”
Carter, Allen and DeJoseph all shoot more than 50 percent from the floor, while Rooker and Keema are at 48 and 45.
Cody Azevedo, Kyle Krebs and Ian Schulz, all returnees from last year, are the main subs. Eight guys have carried the playing load since league season started.
Newcomer Michael Mendoza, Gareat Rauh, Connor Quilling, Sevon Mandoki and Taylor Saarem have seen limited action since league started, but all five have had successful moments.
“I have confidence in those guys,” DeJoseph said. “They help get us to where we need to be by pushing us and working hard in practice.”
Working hard. It’s the signature of a blue-collar team like Carson. The Senators play hard and get the job done.