Gilbert boys basketball open the season motivated
December 1, 2023 by Noah Maltzman, Arizona State University
There are ample reasons to be optimistic about the Gilbert High boys basketball team this season.

Following an unexpectedly competitive season with an inexperienced roster, the Tigers this year will feature a more battle-tested squad accompanied by the same veteran coaching staff.

Last season, with zero returning players, the Tigers finished with an impressive overall record of 11-7, with a 10-6 conference record and a 7-3 regional record, while competing in the 6A central division.

Despite a lack of varsity experience, Gilbert got into the open championship, reserved for the Top 32 teams in the state, but proceeded to lose in the first round.

This bounced the Tigers back to their conference tournament, where they won a game but then lost to rival Highland, which ended up winning the 6A state championship.

Going into the 2023-24 campaign, the Tigers have six returning players who have already competed at the varsity level.

One of those players is senior guard and captain Nazir Richardson. Richardson knows exactly what the team is capable of.

“I feel like this year is going be really good,” said Richardson. “We could potentially win state.”

Richardson believes that the team’s defense, chemistry and passing will significantly influence Gilbert’s success. He also sees the impact of the coaching staff on the team’s toughness and resilience.

The coaching staff might be the team’s greatest asset. Between head coach Jay Caserio and assistant coach Scott Newendyke, the team has over 60 years of coaching experience.

Caserio has been in his current position for 17 seasons and Newendyke has been at Gilbert for 10.

The system that the coaches instituted is modeled after two of the great coaching Toms -- Tom Izzo and Tom Bennett.

Tom Bennett is a highly accomplished coach with over 900 career wins and the father of Randy Bennett, who coaches in college at Saint Mary’s. He was also the varsity coach at Gilbert while Caserio was the freshman coach.

Tom Izzo is the more nationally recognized of the two, as he is the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans and has taken his team to the Final Four eight times, winning a national championship in 2000.

Both coaches had a strong influence on Caserio, as evidenced by the team’s man-to-man defensive scheme, which involves hard-nosed play, including being the first to the floor for loose balls.

The coaches are also critical to the team’s success because they have established a winning culture.

“We’ve had a string of seven or so years with talented players and teams,” said Caserio. “We won the state championship five years ago and lost in the state championship two years ago.”

One challenge that is important for every coach is to understand how to nurture different skill sets, and Caserio has fully embraced that obstacle.

“We want all of our guys to develop completely as a player,” said Caserio. “Regardless of whether they are a guard or post player, they need to hone in their skill sets, know what that is, and utilize them in-game.”

When asked about what it is like to coach alongside someone like Caserio, Newendyke responded with a rave review.

“Coach Caserio is one of the most prepared coaches that I have ever coached with,” said Newendyke. “He could practically predict what the opposing team ate for breakfast.”

All in all, this is a team with an incredibly sharp coaching staff and a roster of blossoming talent. As long as the Gilbert players and coaches utilize their keys to success, this team could be destined for a deep postseason run.

Strong second half propels Gilbert past Skyline
December 3, 2023 by Noah Maltzman, Arizona State University

The Gilbert Tigers beat the Skyline Coyotes 56-31 on their home court Thursday night.

Points came at a premium, as it was a hard-nosed defensive battle throughout.

The first half featured a lot of back-and-forth play, with Skyline forcing Gilbert to compete in the half-court.

“In the beginning, they slowed us down and gave us a tough time with their physicality,” said Gilbert head coach Jay Caserio. “They got the ball into the lane, got offensive rebounds, and won most of the 50-50 balls.”

Senior guard Nazir Richardson had the opening four points of the game and was stellar throughout. He saw the floor well, finishing with 12 points and several assists.

“At first, we came out kind of underestimating Skyline, and that's how they stuck with us in the first half,” said Richardson. “But after the team talked at halftime, we picked it up, and that's how we were able to pull away and get the victory.”

After the Gilbert coaches addressed the team at halftime, the players returned to the court determined to be assertive and utilize their keys to success.

“The halftime adjustments were mostly offensive,” said Gilbert assistant coach Scott Newendyke. “We stopped trying to pound the ball inside because they were overplaying their defense by collapsing after penetration.”

In the second half, Gilbert went to its “gold” set, which involves a trap action and a half-court press. This helped prevent Skyline from getting into its offense by pulling the Coyotes out of rhythm.

This set resulted in the play of the game when Richardson stole an east-west pass around mid-court, leading to an emphatic dunk that gave his team a 40-23 lead, the largest at the time.

Another outcome of these changes was forcing difficult shots and misses. The third quarter was by far the best defensive effort, with Gilbert holding Skyline to just three points. Every shot was highly contested or off-balance, and the Tigers also did a great job defending back cuts.

While Skyline excelled in post and weak-side help defense, the Coyotes often left the skip pass open, allowing Gilbert to get some open shots in the corners.

Part of the game plan for Gilbert was to neutralize Skyline point guard Jeremiah Cole.

Despite this preparation, Cole finished with 13 points by getting in the paint using a two-foot jump stop, followed by several controlled pivots to get open.

The leading scorer from the game was Jaelen Green, a senior captain for Gilbert, who had 15 points.

“This game was a learning lesson for our team, and it will help us later on in the season,” said Richardson.

The Tigers improved to 6-0 on the season and 2-0 in conference play.