Now that 2022 is in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead. Expect more thrill rides. Great games. Big moments. Historic feats. And another wave of incredibly talented athletes in Arizona high school sports in 2023.
Here are seven things to look forward to in the 2023 calendar year:
1. Open basketball
The Arizona Interscholastic Association finished its fourth season in December with an Open Division playoff for football. And by all accounts, it has been a success. Some might not see the point of having an Open with seven of the eight teams last season being from the highest conference, the 6A. But it’s opened up opportunities for more schools to win a championship in their conference by moving top teams into the Open playoff.
For boys and girls basketball, this will be the first year of the Open playoffs and it is going to be 32 teams. How it all unfolds is highly anticipated, as teams losing in the first round of the Open playoffs fall back into their respective conference playoff brackets with a chance sto still win a gold ball.
2. Shot clock in playoffs
The 35-second shot clock was installed at the start of this 2022-23 boys and girls basketball seasons. How effective has it been? Is is working? Are teams struggling with it? It doesn’t appear to be an issue, and, when the state tournaments begin, it’s going to be great to see how coaches work the clock in crunch-time moments. Teams won’t be able to hold the ball for minutes on end, forcing teams to play defense. The shot clock is forcing teams to play offense. It’s helping the development of players and coaches’ strageties. They’re forced to get creative.
3. Expanded football playoffs?
It’s something that is going to be discussed by the AIA, and that’s good thing. Play-ins for football in the conference brackets. Play-ins are not knew for basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer. So why not football? There are always those schools sweating out bracket shows to see if they made the 16-team touranment. Now if you open it up, those teams on the bubble can get a chance to play another game that rewards them for their seasons. Such as those schools who win a region title but don’t make the playoffs because they didn’t have enough of the playoff power points to get in. All region champs would have a playoff game if this happens.
4. Freshmen infusion
There have been great freshman basketball players in the past who made big impacts. Think of Mike Bibby at Shadow Mountain in the 1990s, Jerryd Bayless at Phoenix St. Mary’s in the 2000s, Marvin Bagley III at Corona del Sol in 2014. Nicco Mannion at Pinnacle, and Markus Howard at Gilbert Perry.
But I’ve never seen a year like this where so many freshmen, both boys and girls, making a big splash in the state. There are Desert Mountain’s Kaden House (son of former Arizona State star Eddie House), Basha’s Mason Magee and Elijiah Summers-Livingston, Scottsdale Christian’s Jacob Webber and Elijiah Williams, and Phoenix Desert Vista girls player Jerzy Robinson. They all jump out. And there are many more I haven’t mentioned who are aout to take off.
5. Girls flag football
The AIA will have girls flag football sanctioned as a sport next fall at the same time as the boys tackle football season. There has to be a way to make this work so that the girls don’t feel overshadowed by the boys. Some wondered if having girls flag football in the spring would be better to showcase it. But the NFL is involved and this aligns with the NFL season. But it’s a win-win, no matter how you look at it with more girls interested in football and how girls flag football is sweeping the nation. It was inevitablke that the AIA would move fast and sanction it due to interest. Everybody needs to just embrace it and be able to adapt to schedules.
6. Duce Robinson’s decision
Pinnacle senior Duce Robinson is one of those rare three-sport athletes who is an All-American in two sports — football and baseball. Everybody is waiting for his college announcement, which is expected to come on the traditional Signing Day on Feb. 1. But whichever college the 6-foot-6, 235-pound freak athlete picks that school will be allowing him to play both football and baseball. The top-rated tight end in the 2023 football class who played in the Under Armour All-American Game this week could even make another huge decision in the summer when the Major League Basetball Draft comes. If he’s a high draft pick, it might be tempting to take the baseball route. Some have compared him to Aaron Judge, he’s that gifted with the bat.
7. Better sportsmanship
In an ideal world, there will be no technicals, no ejections, no parents running out on the court or the field or trying toe get coaches fired. But that’s not the world we live in. So all you can ask for is more patience from parents, fewer complaints, let the kids play, have fun and don’t argue every call that goes against you. Just play, enjoy and feel a sense of pride and release that you can do what you love to do. The sight of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on the field on Monday Night Football put sports in perspective, no matter what level. Wins and losses aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things in life.
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter@azc_obert
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