Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 | 10:25 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer fill out their brackets for the Sunset and Sunrise regional tournaments.
It’s not common for a high school basketball team to lose one of its best players for the season and become a better squad.
But that is what appears to have happened at Canyon Springs.
The Pioneers have hit their stride after losing junior point guard Shaquille Carr, beating host Eldorado Tuesday, 74-66, in the first round of the Sunrise Regional tournament for their fifth win in six games to become a legitimate contender in the Sunrise.
Losing Carr, the nation’s No. 23 overall point guard prospect for the class of 2014, could have been the setback to derail the Pioneers’ season. Instead, it forced other players to take on a more significant role, and those players have thrived.
“It’s a big loss losing Shaq, but you know what?,” Canyon Springs coach Freddie Banks said. “Kids nowadays have to step up. It is like if you broke your ankle or get an injury, (the next guy) has to be ready to step up. So, all of our guys have stepped in.”
Gerard Davis, Canyon Springs’ other top college recruit, played like an elite player against Eldorado in scoring a team-high 21 points.
The Pioneers led just 58-55 early in the fourth quarter before holding Eldorado scoreless for nearly five minutes in going on a 10-0 scoring rally to put the game out of reach.
Davis had three straight baskets in the rally and Canyon Springs, a team expected to be too young and year away from contending, is now two wins away from reaching next week’s state tournament. They play Las Vegas High at 4:40 p.m. Thursday in the Sunrise semifinals at Valley.
“Coach Banks has been making us go harder,” Davis said. “It is all about intensity. We say it, now we have to do it.”
Davis’ brother, sophomore Jordan Davis, was promoted from the junior varsity team to take Carr’s spot on the roster. He finished with six points against Eldorado, but more importantly, wasn’t a liability and helped execute Banks’ up-tempo offense. And guard Chris Swanson had one of his most productive games of the season in scoring 17 points.
“We are just starting to peak right now,” Banks said. “We are doing what we are supposed to do best and that is rebounding and running our offense, and getting on the break.”
Canyon Springs led by as many as eight points in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold the advantage and trailed 33-31 at halftime. Eldorado, which was the higher-seeded team, got a game-high 21 points from senior wing D.J. Billingsley.
However, on this night, and over the past two weeks, there simply is no stopping Canyon Springs. That included erasing a nine-point deficit last week against then league-leading Valley for a confidence-building victory heading into the playoffs.
“When we were down by nine, I told the guys, do not quit,” Banks said. “If you quit, it shows you have no heart. So the kids played their hearts out and played well.”