As a freshman, Derek Wilson got a taste of the playoffs, scoring five points in Palo Verde’s second-round blowout loss to eventual champion Amphitheater.
Two losing seasons, a coaching change and a new team philosophy later, the No. 19-seeded Titans are finally back in the state tournament.
With Wilson as the down-low anchor in a talented senior trio, rather than a wide-eyed freshman, a resurgent Palo Verde squad is entertaining visions of making a Cinderella run.
“We have a chance to do something that this school hasn’t really seen in a while,” Wilson said. “I think it’s our time to go out there and show everybody that we’re not the little Division III, east-side school.
“We’re Palo Verde — we’re here to come and fight you in your gym and never back down from a challenge.”
Two of the Titans trio — Wilson and senior Tahmani Williams — missed a significant chunk of time due to injuries, forcing guard Dimitri Ramirez to carry the scoring burden. Second-year coach Marty Roth, who was an assistant at Amphi when the Panthers beat Palo Verde in 2011, said with the big three finally healthy “there is an excitement about our group.”
The Star caught up with the three Titans as they prepare for tonight’s first-round matchup at No. 14 Bisbee.
THE EXPERIENCED LEADER
Who it is: Derek Wilson
The lowdown: The 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound Wilson is a banger in the paint, having averaged 15.5 points and 11.3 rebounds in the regular season. While he lacks the height of other top big men, Wilson said he won’t back down from a battle. He scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards in Palo Verde’s 72-67 home win against Bisbee on Jan. 7.
The NBA comparison: Wilson tries to model his game after Clippers star Blake Griffin, all the way down to the curly hair and tapered haircut. The senior’s high-flying athleticism is limited by his broken left wrist and sprained ankle, though.
Coach’s call: “He’s a senior that just carries himself the way you would want a young man to carry himself.”
THE SHUTDOWN DEFENDER
Who it is: Tahmani Williams
The lowdown: A torn meniscus in his left knee has slowed him, but the senior point guard still prides himself on being a lockdown defender. Williams said he wants to be in the action defensively and show people he can play with anybody. He held Catalina Foothills’ Austin Nehls to under 50-percent shooting (7 for 15) in Palo Verde’s 60-55 win over the Falcons.
The NBA comparison: The all-around, team-oriented approach of Clippers guard Chris Paul inspires Williams’ play. He said he tries to pass first and make his teammates look good, but if he needs to, he can score — as his 17.4 points per game shows.
Coach’s call: “He has, this year, taken ownership of this squad, in the sense that whatever we need at the moment to get a win (he’ll do).”
THE OFFENSIVE WEAPON
Who it is: Dimitri Ramirez
The lowdown: Ramirez has been the team’s go-to offensive threat this year, averaging 22.5 points after appearing in just six games as a junior. Ramirez said he had to embrace a scoring mentality as a senior leader because it gives the underclassmen confidence. The combo guard eclipsed 30 points twice this season, including 35 in a loss at Cholla.
The NBA comparison: Ramirez likes the score-first style of Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. In addition to making plays for his team, Ramirez shot over 53 percent (43 for 81) from deep in the regular season.
Coach’s call: “More than anything (he has) that playground mentality. He loves the challenge of me and you — I’m going to get to the bucket and I’m going to score, and you can’t stop me.”