Ray Brewer and Case Keefer briefly discuss the upcoming state basketball tournaments in Reno.
This isn’t another story about UNLV basketball great Freddie Banks. He made a lot of 3-pointers for the Rebels in the mid-1980s, helped them reach the Final Four and, depending on whom you talk to, is the best high school player in Las Vegas history.
This is a story about the Canyon Springs High players he coaches.
For Banks, his playing achievements are in the past. He’s proud of what happened but prefers it not be mentioned. He is focused on the now.
Canyon Springs is one of the state’s best programs because of its players — a group of young men Banks passionately calls “his kids.”
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about these kids.”
The Pioneers, who last week won their fourth Sunrise Regional championship in six seasons, play Northern Nevada’s Bishop Manogue on Thursday in the state semifinals at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
The Pioneers run up and down the court with such speed and efficiency that the comparisons to Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams are easy to make.
Canyon Springs plays with such hustle and intensity, especially on defense, that it resembles those Bill Bobier-coached Valley High teams Banks played for.
But it’s not the system that has helped the program reach an elite status. It’s the players who run the system, Banks insists.
If they win, Banks is quick to credit his players — athletes such as guard Kevin Legardy and Alexander Spaight, who are so dynamic and quick in the backcourt that the opposition can’t keep pace. If they lose, he shoulders the blame and gets tough on them, like Bobier was tough on him.
But there hasn’t been much losing. Canyon Springs enters the state tournament with a 24-2 record.
At the beginning of the season, it was six-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman, preseason favorite Clark and Southeast league power Coronado mentioned as contenders to win a state championship. Canyon Springs was given no chance.
The kids took notice, and it has motivated them.
The mentality of the Canyon Springs players, and not just this season, is refreshing.
Regardless of who they are playing, there’s no backing down. To a man, they believe they’ll board the bus Saturday in Reno with the state championship trophy.
“When I hear (others doubting us), I let the kids know,” Banks said. “When someone talks abut my kids, I get offended. They are like me. They are passionate. They come in and do what they have to do.”
Legardy is Canyon Springs’ most valuable player; the sophomore Spaight is next in line to be the Pioneers’ leader; and players such as De’shawn Keperling and Christopher Ward don’t back down in the post, despite standing just 6-foot-4.
But Banks will tell you it’s more than just those core players. It’s everyone on the roster. He can easily point to any player and explain how without their contributions, Canyon Springs wouldn’t be in the state tournament.
And it’s not just coachspeak. Banks firmly believes it.
He used Anthony Soares, albeit for just a handful of seconds, on a defensive possession late in the first half of the Sunrise Regional championship game victory against Coronado. Nate Smith, another reserve, rewarded Banks’ confidence with a 3-point play in the same game.
“When (the season) first started in September, we just kept practicing hard and playing hard,” Canyon Springs junior Kayvon Alexander said. “We knew we had a good team if we put in the work and stayed together.”
A few minutes after the game ended and the players stormed the court in celebration, they gathered for a photo with the Sunrise trophy. They were joined by family members and school staff, all relishing in the accomplishment of earning a trip to Reno. Together, they proved everyone wrong.
And guess what? They plan to do it again.