Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer come to you from the Las Vegas Sun's podcast studio for one final time this basketball season. They dissect the chances of seeing an all-Las Vegas state championship game between Bishop Gorman and Green Valley.
It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and Durrell McDonald, a key to Green Valley High School’s journey to this week’s state basketball tournament, is shooting hoops to stay sharp.
But he’s not at the school’s gym with its polished wood floor or at an athletic club, or anywhere indoors suitable for one of the state’s top players. Instead, he’s fighting 20 mph gusts on an asphalt court surrounded by chain-link fencing and tossing the ball through a chain-link hoop. He’s at Pecos-Legacy Park in Henderson, near the corner of Wigwam and Pecos roads, a place you’d expect to see a pickup game among over-the-hill and out-of-shape players looking for some weekend recreation.
McDonald must look like a superstar, draining shots one after another — just like he did last week in leading Green Valley on its surprising run to the Sunrise Regional title. He’s interrupted only by having to loosen the ball on occasion when it gets caught in the kinked net.
And if McDonald looks comfortable out here, no wonder. It’s where he has spent most of his weekends since August, in the heat and in the cold, honing his game. It was no different on this Sunday, four days before Green Valley plays Reno’s Hug High in the state semifinals at the Lawlor Events Center on the UNR campus.
McDonald, who is verbally committed to DePaul, isn’t the only Green Valley player who has seen his game improve because of the training. On this day, he’s shooting with Devan Kohn, a 6-foot-4 power forward who has blossomed into a force on the inside in helping Green Valley on its run.
The fruits of these extra hours of practice? The opportunity of a lifetime — being remembered with a regional banner in the Green Valley gym and going to Reno for the state tournament.
That’s surely the goal of every player. But there aren’t too many willing to put in the work.
They’re under the watchful eye of trainer Mitch Mitchell, McDonald’s uncle and coach of the Mad Moves AAU team.
“There aren’t a lot of people out there doing the same thing,” McDonald said. “People like to make excuses, but every day is a day to get better.”
The Green Valley team is easy to root for. They are truly the underdogs with a roster of relative unknowns — the exception being McDonald. They had a losing record in late January and could have easily thrown in the towel. Several other teams would have definitely taken that option.
After all, there aren’t too many teams that lose seven of their first 10 games, and have a pair of four-game losing streaks, but still win the regional title. Then again, there aren’t many players who are willing to battle the elements of heat and wind while practicing to make improvements to their games on an outdoor court — a place the two have been religiously every Saturday and Sunday since summer.
Kohn had 34 points and 17 rebounds when Green Valley upset Valley in the Sunrise semifinals, and McDonald scored 32 points in the championship game victory against Foothill. Without the performances in each, Green Valley wouldn’t be traveling to Reno for state. It would be Valley or Foothill.
And without the weekend workouts, the players believe they wouldn’t have the skills to change the game. From the blacktop of Pecos-Legacy to the 11,536-seat Lawlor Events Center, they haven’t been fazed when the odds were stacked against them — not with a 3-7 record to start the season or a windy day at a local park altering their shot.
It’s what makes cheering for them such an easy thing to do. At one point, we all shared the same dreams of athletic greatness while playing at a local park.
“Yeah, some days it can be stressful when the wind is blowing around,” McDonald said. “But basketball is basketball no matter where you are.”