When the players from this year’s Maricopa girls basketball team get together for a 10-year class reunion, chances are they won’t remember Saturday’s score.
They won’t remember how the Rams’ lost to Gilbert Williams Field 55-47 or how they were down by 15 points at one point, or how they rallied late in the fourth quarter to almost pull out a victory.
Instead Saturday’s regular season home game for Maricopa, that opened 5A San Tan region play, will live in the memories of the players for where it was played.
Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix.
“It’s definitely a different feeling, and it’s exciting to play,” Maricopa senior Katherine Gores said. “Even though it’s not our home court, it still felt like we had to defend it.”
The Rams were one of 14 teams playing on the same court, where a day earlier the Phoenix Suns defeated the New York Knicks 120-112 behind Devin Booker’s 38 points.
On Saturday, Booker’s home court gave way to the Rams’ Shakira Gillespie, who had 18 points to lead Maricopa.
“It’s an awesome opportunity, and the girls are very thankful we had this opportunity,” Maricopa coach RaShawn Calvert said. “This is something that we will want to do again next year — being able to be on the court, the locker rooms and just seeing the environment. Just seeing a higher level of basketball is always a positive.”
In order for the team to get the opportunity to play at the arena, they had to sell $2,500 worth of Suns tickets.
Calvert said the team started selling the tickets before the season started and before long, they had the amount needed to play the game.
“If you look at the tickets and people coming to games, I feel like my family alone covered half the costs,” she said. “We’re basketball people. With the Suns actually being competitive this year, it wasn’t hard to sell those tickets.”
Saturday’s event was billed as Hoop It Up at the Arena and was put on by Phoenix Greenway athletic director Jeff Feldman.
Feldman said he started the event 10 years ago with just Greenway and Phoenix Washington. He added that the event has grown and fluctuated in numbers with 27 games being played last year.
“Any school is eligible to play,” he said. “I send the email information to every high school AD and coach and it’s open to both boys and girls.”
Feldman said both teams have to sell the $2,500 worth of Suns tickets and added the schools can invite their cheer squads and pep bands to participate, something Maricopa did Saturday.
As for how the home team is determined, that is up to the schools. In the case of Maricopa, the school gave up its home game with Williams Field in order to play the game at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“If you are the home team, your score person gets to work the scoreboard, your announcer gets to do the announcing,” Feldman said. “It’s your own home game and you can slate it as such. It’s your home game, just in a different venue.”
Although some things remain the same, such as quarter lengths and a team’s offensive plays, there are some challenges to playing in a large NBA arena instead of a high school gymnasium.
Feldman said the biggest change is depth perception.
“There’s no wall,” he said. “Even though you have time to run up, sometimes it takes some teams a little more time to get the depth perception because there’s nothing but seats there instead of a brick wall.”
He added that while some teams struggle with the large cavernous arena with thousands of empty seats, other teams get amped-up for the opportunity to play in such a place.
“I have seen teams come in here, and they are not really good, and they play out of their minds and they win games,” Feldman said.
And then there are the memories that will last a lifetime — retold 20 years from now and lasting longer than the sting of the loss.
“To be able to go out on that court, that’s a once in a lifetime,” Calvert said. “It’s something that not everyone gets to experience. We are thankful to be able to be in a high-level basketball arena. It’s pretty awesome.
“This is something that you are going to remember, being able to play in this arena — being there with your team and the good memories of it.”