When I was in Glendale covering the state tournament at Jobing.com Arena, AIA 365 reporter Jose Garcia told me he couldn’t remember the last time there was such an array of talent for boys basketball in Southern Arizona.
He was absolutely right.
The Tucson area was loaded this winter, and that made selecting our player of the year so tough. But after much thought and discussion, we decided Catalina Foothills senior Austin Nehls was the Star’s pick.
The 6-foot-3-inch guard averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2 steals per game and proved to be one of the most consistent players in the area.
Unfortunately, Nehls had arguably the worst game of his career in the second round of the Division II state tournament. He shot 4 for 17 from the floor and finished with 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in a 72-70 season-ending loss at Phoenix Shadow Mountain, the eventual state champion.
But I still believe Nehls, the son of former Arizona Wildcats standout Joe Nehls, is the best player in Southern Arizona. Essentially all five members of the first team were strongly considered for top honors, especially Salpointe Catholic senior Cameron Denson, who proved to be just as electric on the basketball court as he was on the football field.
Like Denson, Cholla junior point guard Jorge Carrasco made a huge difference on the floor as he helped the Chargers host and win a state playoff game for the second year in a row.
Ironwood Ridge center Mitch Lightfoot and Sunnyside forward Jacob Inclan were two of the top sophomores in the state; both helped their teams reach the state playoffs, and are two players to keep an eye on over the next two years.
Foothills senior Chaz Mack, Nehls’ teammate, was also in the conversation: He averaged a double-double for the second year in a row with 12.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.