Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Star’s 2019-20 college basketball preview section, which was included with the Sunday, Oct. 27 Arizona Daily Star.
It’s not exactly by design, but the already run-and-gun Pima College men’s basketball team will be even...runnier and gunnier(?) ... this year under long-time coach Brian Peabody.
For the first time in his decorated career in high school and college hoops, Peabody does not have a center.
On the eve of the school year, a 6-foot-10-inch prospect decided to attend a prep school for a year rather than play at Pima, which left 6-7 four-man Kaylon Tippins — more of a runner and jumper than a back-to-the-basket power forward — as the tallest player on the team. Now Peabody and the Aztecs, who went 27-9 and finished seventh in at the NJCAA national tournament, will likely start four guards for much of the season.
Asked what had changed one year to the next, point guard Jordan Robinson cited the team’s speed — and the smaller lineup is why.
“In my entire career I’ve never not had a big, so I started thinking outside the box,” Peabody said. “We have to do different things. We’re not playing back to the basket on every possession. Sometimes we’ll play five out and none in and try to create mismatch problems.”
Peabody — who can barely plan ahead as it is with players coming and going every two years — has had to do even more coaching on the fly than usual.
“We’re tinkering with everything we’re doing,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to go fast, constantly messing with ways to get guys in and out of the lane, to get them into pockets and shooting positions. I’m not a big fan of the dribble-drive. We’ve hung our hat on being a good screening team and we still want to do that.”
Robinson, who injured his knee last year and is still working his way back to 100 percent, will be crucial as the point man.
Sophomore Rashad Smith, who has offers from Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona, and redshirt freshman Jake Lieppert, coming off a shoulder tear that sidelined him last season, will also be major factors.
As for the fifth starter?
“Throw a dart at a dart board,” Peabody said.
If anyone can solve the conundrum, it’s Peabody, who has built the Aztecs into an annual NJCAA contender. Pima enters the season ranked No. 4 after concluding last season with a seventh-place finish in the national tournament.
“Things are looking pretty good,” Robinson said. “We’re definitely confident. We have weaknesses we worked on, but we worked in practice to turn them into strengths.”
That could be the key to the Aztecs’ season: Forcing the other team’s hand.
“The main thing is to trust each other and the system,” Robinson said. “Coach Peabody has been doing this since before I was born and the one thing I’ve learned is no matter who is on the floor, they’re going to put them in position to be successful. We’re on the team for a reason, and no matters who is on the floor, they bring something to the table.”