Golden Valley Basketball
Turning Chemistry into a Shot at Post-season Greatness
March, 2009 - Issue #53
There's something brewing in the gymnasium at Golden Valley High School in the foothills rimming the southeastern edge of the Santa Clarita Valley.

It is a caldron of backdoor cuts, pick-and-roll layups and tomahawk slam dunks. Its fire is fueled by a raucous student body, fist-pumping parents wearing jerseys bearing the school's snarling mascot and, more importantly, a level of team chemistry never before witnessed at the fledgling campus.

It is the Grizzlies varsity boys basketball team, poised to make a deep run into the postseason for the first time in the program's five-year history.

Team chemistry in athletics is hard to define but easily recognizable. It can include ingredients like camaraderie, trust and individual sacrifice.

The relationship between team chemistry and success is often circular. As chemistry improves, so does a team's record, which results in players interacting more cohesively and becoming invested in the outcome.

The 12 players who comprise Golden Valley's basketball team are a study in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Look no further than the pre-game warm-up drill the team executes as it emerges from the locker room. The players flow across the court like a continuous human thread, each tipping the ball off the backboard to the player behind him until the last one banks home a layup.

There are other markers, like players willing to give up their bodies to draw momentum-turning offensive fouls, or starters dishing off to reserves who spend scant time in the spotlight.

Team captains Maverick Ahanmisi and Trevor Wiseman are the main catalysts behind the group's cohesive dynamic.
Wiseman, a 6-foot-6 junior, traces the origins of the team's chemistry to a three-day summer tournament held at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That's when 16 Grizzlies bunked down in two dorm rooms, and basketball became incidental to getting to know one's teammates.

"All of us kids in there, doing everything together for a couple of days, that's when we really started to bond," Wiseman says. "We're all on the same page now. We all hang out together at school. Last year we didn't have that."

What Golden Valley had last year was a 12-15 record and an opening-round exit from the playoffs. In fact, over the past three seasons, the Grizzlies were an unremarkable 32-46.

Chris Printz is the only original head coach still at the school. He characterized his team's UCSB experience as one step along the journey.

"I think there have been many in terms of us bonding," Printz says. "These guys gave up every lunch to go into the weight room during fall conditioning, and now they give up lunch for film sessions. They do nearly everything together, sacrificing, and I think that has helped them bond together."

Valencia High tested the strength of that bond when it hosted Golden Valley on January 23. The Vikings stymied the Grizzlies in the first half, using defensive pressure and transition buckets to build a nine-point advantage at the break. Ahanmisi, Golden Valley's senior point guard, says Printz "questioned the team's maturity and leadership" during a halftime conversation that had little to do with X's and O's.

Printz, who also teaches advanced placement U.S. history and government at Golden Valley, says he talked about the obstacles a team faces during a long season.

"I felt in the first half we allowed a little selfishness to creep in," Printz says. "Instead of thinking about 'we' and what we can do for the solution, we started pointing fingers at others. In past seasons, maybe lack of chemistry would have allowed that to permeate the team and take over the second half."

Not this season.

Golden Valley rallied together and slugged out a victory. The Grizzlies put on a defensive clinic, and senior guard Steven Thornton utilized a blockade at the high post to deliver a series of driving layups. A clutch floater in the lane by Erick Serrano and a late-game free throw by Ahanmisi sealed the deal, 69-67.

Now with the most successful Foothill League campaign in school history under its belt, the team will set its sights on the CIF-Southern Section Division III-A playoffs. It will surely test the limits of a chemistry that has flourished in the months since the tourney in Santa Barbara.

Printz, however, believes the real reward will not be found in the win column or on a stat sheet.

"I love seeing guys who are able to get something from basketball that helps make them a little bit better of a person," Printz says. "If you can learn to give of yourself for the team, then you can learn to give of yourself for your family, your children, at work, and those are lessons that are going to carry you through life."
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