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Arizona legend Mike Bibby helps out his high school alma mater



NBA star Mike Bibby runs a drill with his son Michael Bibby and the Phoenix Shadow Mountain High boys basketball team. / AZ Central

It is late November in Sierra Vista, and Michael Bibby, playing in his first varsity game, already is getting razzed by a student section.

"You'll never be as good as your dad!" students shout at the diminutive 5-foot-10 Phoenix Shadow Mountain freshman point guard as he dribbles the ball down the court during a season-opening tournament at Buena High.

Three days later, Bibby and friends are carrying out the championship trophy, letting the state know a new basketball era has begun at a school that has Mike Bibby's No. 10 jersey encased in glass and hanging on a wall inside its gymnasium.

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Seventeen years ago, Mike Bibby was enjoying a spectacular senior season, leading Shadow Mountain on cross-country journey to shoe-sponsored tournaments and its first state basketball championship. He finished a four-year varsity career as the state's all-time leading scorer. The following year, the point guard led the University of Arizona to its only NCAA men's basketball championship. He went on to a 14-year NBA career with the Sacramento Kings and five other teams.

"I'm just trying to make a statement for myself," little Michael said after a recent practice. "It's kind of hard. But I like how it is, following in my dad's footsteps, where he came from. It's fun."

With Bibby came five other incoming freshmen, including two others who start -- Carlos Johnson, a beast in the block at 6-foot-3, and J.J. Rhymes, a high-flying wing who plays above the rim.

With guard Keegan Hansen, who transferred two years ago from Paradise Valley, and 6-7 forward Tyler Lehew, who started out at Phoenix Thunderbird, both providing senior leadership, Shadow Mountain is 17-2.

It has become a state power in Division II, setting itself up well for years to come, only two years after going 1-20.

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"They didn't play with us in the summer," coach Cain Jagodzinski said of the freshmen. "I had nothing to do with bringing them over. They showed up the first day of school. The registrar called and said, 'You've got a couple of basketball kids registered,' and told me their names. I said, 'OK.' I got a smile. But Michael belongs here. He went to Shea Middle School. Everyone in their family has come to school here. Michael should be at Shadow."

The fab frosh have basically grown up on the court under Mike Bibby's direction. During NBA off-seasons, Bibby worked with them since they were 9 on his AAU Team Bibby.

"It all started with him," Mike said, pointing to his son. "I had these kids for five years. The team has grown."

Mike's father, former UCLA and NBA point guard Henry Bibby, wasn't around much during his formative years on the court. It is partly what drives Mike Bibby, making sure his son is getting his attention. Mike hasn't joined an NBA team this year. He still waits for a call, feeling he has at least a year or two left in his playing career.

He goes to all of his son's games, sometimes with his brother-in-law, former Arizona State star and ex-NBA player Eddie House. He doesn't sit on the bench at games. But he has been in the gym to install the defense and has work with some of the younger players.

"There are a lot of people out there that probably look at it, 'He's just playing because that's his dad,'" Mike said of his son. "But he puts the work in. As far as me growing up, I never really had anything to put the work in for me."

Mike's return to his roots and his son steering the team has driven up attendance for Shadow Mountain home games. There is a vibe on campus that's been missing for a decade.

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There also is perception that Shadow Mountain has an advantage with Bibby's club pipeline.

However, no new ground is being broken.

Phoenix St. Mary's girls basketball team went 30-0 and finished atop the national polls last season through coach Curtis Ekmark's Warriors club program.

A wave of freshmen, led by Daniel Bejarano, led Phoenix North to the state semifinals in 2006. When they were seniors, they led North to the Class 5A Division II championship. Then-assistant coach Ray Arvizu's brother Robert was part of that group that grew up together on the court.

"There were some players that were seniors who quit during the frosh era," North coach Joseph Bustos said. "I only had one senior player who stood the entire season, and he started most of the games. Nick Frazier was an excellent leader, and he trusted and respected the freshmen.

"The frosh knew that they belonged at the varsity level. They played with confidence and within the team concepts."

Jagodzinski knew there could be potential for team division with six seniors and six freshmen comprising of this Shadow Mountain team. He also knew it could create division.

"I think once we saw the team coming together, we've been preaching to them, 'We're one team, we're one family,'" Jagodzinski said. "Always in my career, I played the best players, regardless of class.

"When you watch them play, it's like, 'There's no way they're freshmen.'"

Bibby (7.3 points) is the facilitator, much like his dad was his freshman year at Shadow Mountain in the '90s. He plays like a senior, but looks like he is still in grade school.

"Wait until you see him press," said Jerry Conner, a regular at Shadow Mountain practices and games, who coached Mike in the '90s and has the Shadow Mountain gym named after him. "You'll recognize the genes."

Hansen, who leads the team in scoring, has no qualms with the freshmen getting significant minutes.

"The senior parents are kind of getting into it, but the freshmen, they're good enough to play," Hansen said before the holiday break.

Mike Warren, a former high school basketball coach in his first year as the school's athletic director, embraces Mike Bibby and what he has meant to the school's tradition. But he has heard from disgruntled parents of senior players.

"It's had its challenges," Warren said. "The players seem fine. I was a basketball coach. I played basketball. It always seems to me it works itself out on the court. ... I think Keegan is right on the mark."

Mike Bibby's No. 10 came out of retirement this season for his son to wear.

It's a big number to carry, but one Michael Bibby carries with pride and poise on the court.

"I want to see these kids do good," big Mike says. "There are millions of kids trying to get to where you're at. If you don't show these guys the right attitude, how to play this game, they can go find someone else. It's not hard."

 

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