Florence vs. ALA Queen Creek

Florence’s Malik Payton drives past ALA-Queen Creek’s Ben Strong during a Jan. 17, 2020 game in Florence.

FLORENCE — With eight seniors on the team, most of whom know coach David Silvas and each other quite well, the Florence boys basketball team is looking for another banner year.

Silvas has coached most of these seniors since they were freshmen, and some since 8th grade. Malik Payton and Eddie Chapple are returning starters, and four of the other seniors have at least some varsity experience.

“It’s definitely made my job easier. They’re also good kids,” Silvas said, which means he won’t have to deal with most of the little things that often fill a coach’s time. “They’re very mature, they know what’s expected of them and they do whatever I ask without question.”

He said Payton and Chapple are two of the top scorers “definitely in our region, and maybe even in the 3A Conference. Malik has been on varsity since he was a freshman, he’s been a starter since his sophomore year. And he’s developed into one of the best players I think in the region and the state.

“Eddie Chapple isn’t too far behind him in terms of talent and being an overall great basketball player,” Silvas continued. “He has been with me and I have known him since he was a very young kid. I coached his older brother Aaron, and Eddie would occasionally come to some of our off-season workouts and tournaments as a ball boy. He has turned into a great player as well.”

Case Moore will play center, works hard and does what he’s asked to do, the coach said. Kaleb Brunner and Jordan Napoleon are the others with varsity experience. Silvas coached Brunner since he was in 8th grade and “he has developed into just a great teammate, a great overall player and a very coachable player.”

Of the remaining seniors, a couple haven’t played basketball since they were freshmen, but Silvas is still expecting good work out of them. Kaleb White, most recently known for his football playing, is now back on the basketball court and is looking good. “He is a very good defensive player, very tough, very fast and quick.”

The other is Izrael Dismuke, “one of the strongest players, definitely on the team, and one of the strongest people here at the school. He’s going to be another center for us. … He will, I guess, take the place of Regen Terry. He’s not as tall as Regen but he’s probably going to do everything just as good if not better than Regen Terry did last year. … He’s actually gotten a lot better than the last time I saw him play basketball.”

Rounding out the senior cadre is Sage Grey, a transfer from out-of-state, “a scrappy little basketball player who I think will work well with our team.”

Other Varsity players include junior Chris Farmer, a talented 6’1” guard, and junior Marques Wallace, another guard. “I’m looking for him to be a big varsity contributor.”

J.V. players who are expected to contribute on Varsity include sophomore Brandon Farley, a 6’1” guard “who’s going to be one of the best three-point shooters — if not this year, then definitely next year and the year after that.”

Junior J.R. Johnston, 6’2”, will be a back-up center “and he’s just another great kid that you can count on to be at every practice and do what you ask.” There’s also junior Elijah Leigh, “another six-foot guard that is very athletic and does some good things on the court for us.

“I think they’re locked and loaded and ready to go,” with high athleticism, quickness and basketball I.Q., despite the setbacks created by the pandemic, the coach said.

“It’s definitely impacted us a lot.” Perhaps 14 J.V. players remain in quarantine. “There was a time when I had four or five varsity kids quarantined. So you have to do what you can with what you have. And it’s frustrating at times, definitely; it’s stressful at times, definitely.” But Silvas remains optimistic for the season.

“Yeah, definitely. I always like to go into every season thinking and really truly believing we’re one of the best teams in the state. I definitely have the same feeling this year. Malik and Eddie and Chris are going to be a handful for other teams to guard. … I definitely think we’re going to be up there just like we are every year.”

Home games will stream on YouTube. The Gophers’ first game is Tuesday at Tonopah Valley.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.