With state berth, Durango takes another step toward return to glory days


Wade Vandervort

Durango’s Anthony Hunter practices, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.

Wed, Feb 26, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Durango High basketball coach Chad Beeten saw a play on game film that concerned him. He quickly asked for it to be replayed.

The Trailblazers were preparing for today’s class 4A state quarterfinals against Reed of Northern Nevada, starting the process with a film session on Monday. The best way to beat an opponent is to become familiar with how they plan to attack, and Reed offensive sets caught the eye of Beeten, especially the play of senior guard Trey Stevens.

“He can play. Trust me,” Beeten told his players. “This is what you have to be aware of.”

Durango needs to win three games in three days to become champions, which is easier said than done considering the obstacles of having to travel to Reno for the event at the Lawlor Events Center and the opponents they would have to face.

A win against Reed would bring on Mountain Region champion Desert Pines in the semifinals. A win against Desert Pines would likely bring eight-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman, who beat Durango by nearly 20 points in last week’s Desert Region championship game.

The best way to win, really the only way Beeten knows, is to be overly prepared. So, late Friday night and into Saturday morning, after Durango beat Faith Lutheran in the state play-in game, the process began.

One assistant broke down film of Reed for the immediate game plan. Another scrambled to find video of Desert Pines, knowing that scheme would have to be instituted in less than 24 hours if Durango advances past Reed.

“You can’t wait until 9:30 at night to start preparing for Desert Pines,” Beeten said.

Click to enlarge photo

Durango basketball coach Chad Beeten is interviewed during the Las Vegas Sun high school basketball media day at Red Rock Casino, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

Getting to play in the state tournament is a privilege. There are, after all, only five boys teams out of more than 40 in Southern Nevada competing in the class 4A and 3A events. But with that privilege comes a challenge in preparation, which involves more than getting ready on the court.

There’s coordinating bus travel, hotel rooms, meals, per diem and much more. Beeten, who won multiple championships at Clark before moving last offseason to Durango, knows the routine. When Clark beat Elko for the 2014 championship, players credited the defensive game plan designed in a hotel meeting room for limiting Elko to 25 points.

That experience gives Beeten some comfort, as do trips Durango took to Arkansas and California in December for games. While the particulars of traveling to face a Reed squad expected to bring hundreds of fans to Lawlor Events Center will be a challenge, it’s not completely uncharted waters.

“We like being the underdog,” said Tone Hunter, Durango’s senior guard and leading scorer at 20 points per game. “A lot of us play AAU and travel ball, it’s not like we aren’t used to playing out of town.”

Durango, one of the city’s great basketball brands of the 1990s, is finally returning to state. The program won just eight games last season — far from the days of coach Al La Rocque’s state championship teams in 1995 and 1996.

When the Trailblazers’ coaching position opened in the offseason, Beeten made what some outsiders thought was a surprising move by leaving Clark, who a few months earlier had lost in the state championship game. Beeten said there was something special about Durango that had always caught his eye. The gym has banners honoring the likes of baseball’s Tommy Pham and Ryan Ludwick, UFC notable Gray Maynard, BMX great T.J. Lavin, and Kyle and Kurt Busch of NASCAR fame, so it’s easy to understand why.

The goal for Beeten is to get the program back to the days of Ra’oof Sadat and Thomas McTyer, the 1997 Gatorade Player of the Year. Making state this year was a significant step in the rebirth.

“This gives us a nice perception,” Beeten said. “There are only three (4A) teams going up north. We are obviously in some pretty good company. For me — coming from Clark, where I think we were established — we want to be established here.”

Kendrick Gilbert, like any athlete about to welcome a new coach, didn’t know what to expect when Beeten took over last summer, even though Gilbert had formed an opinion after playing against Beeten a few times each season.

“I would see him yelling and stuff,” Gilbert said. “How do I say it? He was one of the most intense coaches. But, honestly, he’s one of the best coaches I have worked with.”

Within a few Beeten-led workouts, the Durango players sensed this year would be different. They immediately felt like a different team.

Like the game plan for Reno, everything was organized and structured, and there was a clear goal: Reno.

Beeten looked at the roster with Hunter and Gilbert, two rising seniors with untapped talent, and Gilbert’s younger brother, the UNLV-committed Keshon Gilbert, and knew they had a chance. But only if they bought into his system of playing hard, especially on defense.

“We need to continue doing the things we were taught and what we were our building our program on, that’s defense first,” Hunter said.

Monday’s practice ended with five minutes of free throws. Misses were penalized with sprints, knowing a miss in the final seconds of state tournament game carries the consequence of a season-ending loss. The strategy worked in the Desert Regional semifinals when Durango upset Coronado to earn a spot at state, as the Trailblazers made 19-of-21 attempts.

It was another reminder of how Beeten’s game-planning is paying off. The end goal of returning Durango to its winning ways of the 1990s also seems to be closer to becoming a reality.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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