It’s fair to say that Isaac Davis and Chibuzo Ikonte were a large part of Valencia boys basketball’s playoff run that ended in the quarterfinals of the Division 1AA tournament last season.
What’s not fair to say is that the Vikings peaked there.
Since the graduation of Davis and Ikonte, the team has learned how to count on themselves and not depend on one or two players to be a driving force.
“Isaac and Chibuzo were really good players last year and they helped us a lot,” said Vikings guard Kyler Motoyasu. “Once they left, we lost two integral parts. We started sharing the ball more, people getting more shots. And the ball movement’s a lot better.”
Each player will contribute to the whole, creating what coach Chad Phillips calls a “multi-faceted” team. Many players are young, with only three seniors on the squad, making for fertile ground to grow from.
Motoyasu, a senior, sets the pace for the Vikings, starting with the defense. He’s supported by Ben Grant, a 5-foot-10 junior.
“He’s Mr. Hustle,” said Phillips of Grant. “He’s the guy that, if Kyler is the engine, he revs us a little bit.”
Zach Hawkins and Matt Justice are another junior/senior duo that add shooting power to the team.
Josh Assiff is a transfer from Heritage Christian that adds height at 6-5. Also representing the tall guys is Jayden Trower, a super sophomore who checks in at 6-7.
Trower can do a little bit of everything, whether it’s defending or hitting 3-pointers.
“The future is bright,” Phillips said. “He has a ceiling that I don’t know if anybody in the Santa Clarita Valley can ever reach. That’s how talented I think he’s going to be.”
Although the team’s youth has its advantages in the long run, it also means that the Vikings have to focus on defending and reading other teams first.
“We’re going to take the opportunities that other
teams give us,” Phillips said. “That means if we have to play in transition, we’re going to play in transition. If that means we’re going to have to slow down and execute, we’re going to do that as well.”
During games, the players have freedom through the first three quarters to play their own game and gauge the abilities of opponents. But in the final frame, it’s all business.
“The fourth quarter we give it to (coach Phillips),” said Hawkins. “We dial in, we execute, we run a lot of plays to try and win and close out the games. Defensively, we’re very aggressive. We speed up on the other teams, try and get some turnovers.”
Valencia is working on the next step of their legacy, and this year, each Viking plays an equal part in getting there.
“We’re more focused, we’re more driven. We’re more experienced. We have more individuals who are more prepared to be ready to contribute,” said Phillips. “They’re determined to put Valencia basketball back on the wall.”