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Red Rock Academy Practice

Steve Marcus

Players run a drill during Red Rock Academy practice at Western High School Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

The Red Rock Academy basketball team was a few minutes into practice when coach Derek Thomas noticed one of the players not hustling during a drill.

He blew his whistle and instructed the team to head to the line for sprints. You play like you practice, Thomas barked at the players, and what he was witnessing was unsatisfactory.

Thomas, a former assistant at UNLV and head coach at Western Illinois, has built the program in two seasons into one of the nation’s best prep schools. Red Rock Academy has posted an 11-1 record and is ranked No. 6 nationally in MaxPreps’ prep school rankings.

“It hasn’t changed anything we are doing,” Thomas said of the ranking. “It’s all about giving them a platform and holding them accountable to get to the next level.”

The program last year sent three players to Division I — Spencer Mahoney to Washington State, and Sterling Knox and Shane Thomas to Creighton — and a few others to the junior college ranks.

Many players on the Red Rock roster previously played at local high schools, including San Diego State commit Taj Degourville, Jevon Yapi and Colton Knoll from Durango’s state championship team last season, and Mason Abittan from Palo Verde.

Athletes who compete for Red Rock can’t go back to a school in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association. Red Rock Academy doesn’t play against local schools.

“I like the way they played last year. I was drawn to it,” Yapi said. “I liked the coach. He makes you put the work in. He is teaching me how to play like a leader out there and to play hard.”

Red Rock is operated by brothers Tim and Sean Stephens, who played in the late 1990s at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. After Findlay Prep disbanded in 2019, there was a need for another prep school in the Las Vegas area, Tim Stevens said. Findlay won three national titles and produced nearly 20 NBA players in a 12-year run.

The Red Rock program has a handful of players from out of the area and who live with an assistant coach. All of the players attend school online through a virtual program, which provides scheduling flexibility for practices and games.

Tim Stevens said the program was emerging quicker than he imagined, including a 67-60 victory against No. 4 AZ Compass, a more established prep program. Red Rock drove five hours on game day into Arizona, and drove back a few hours later with the win.

“It’s supply and demand,” Tim Stevens said. “Kids don’t want to play public school basketball anymore, and we are there to fill the void. We love basketball. We love training. We’ve got a great coach (in Thomas) developing the kids and getting the most out of them.”

After a coaching change at Palo Verde, Abittan said he transferred to the Red Rock program for consistency and to enhance his college recruiting stock.

“Coach (Thomas) has a good résumé as a coach. It’s been great,” he said. “The competition from public school to prep school is more intense. The whole pace is more intense. The defense is more intense.”

Desert Pines girls a formidable foe in Class 5A

Desert Pines High junior Trista Mabry settled in at home after her team’s 63-7 blowout win against Cheyenne and started replaying sequences from the basketball game.

Mabry concluded: She didn’t play well. Her self-evaluation might have been off.

When she arrived at school the following day, teammates were raving about her stat line — which coach Oscar Davis shared on the team’s social media account. The forward accomplished a rare feat of a quadruple-double with 13 points, 14 steals, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. She added seven assists.

Mabry could be considered the top player on the Desert Pines roster. But she insists the Jaguars’ 11-1 start to the season through Sunday is a total team effort.

The roster is stacked, she says.

“Our team works really well together,” she said. “If one person is not having a good night, someone else will step up.”

Desert Pines reached the Class 4A state semifinals two seasons ago. Last season, it was the state runner-up after blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against Las Vegas.

The Jaguars were elevated to the top classification this season — a spot Davis says will give his team the opportunity to show it’s one of the best in Nevada.

“We had a lot of young kids (the past two years),” Davis said. “But we felt like we were a 5A team playing in the 4A. We have multiple players who can do multiple things. If you want to stop this player, we have another one over there who will beat you.”

Desert Pines has outscored opponents 584-287 to open the season. And it’s more than Mabry, who leads the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

Senior forward Siara Bracey, junior guard Mya Harper, senior post Alanna Jackson and senior forward Trinity Tyrell combine to form a starting lineup Davis would put up against any roster in the state.

“These kids have arrived; we are a contending team,” he said.

The memory of the way last year’s championship game ended surely provided plenty of motivation for training in the offseason. Most of that team returns — and they are determined for another crack at the title.

Of course, being elevated to the top classification with Centennial, Democracy Prep, Bishop Gorman and Liberty will make a playoff run more challenging.

“All of our girls could start for any team in the city,” Davis said. “We can compete in the 5A with all of these teams.”

NLV charter school in now garnering attention

The Somerset Losee boys’ basketball team won the Class 3A state title last season. This season, the Lions have opened with a 13-2 record in their inaugural Class 4A campaign.

Coach Darrius Banks feels the North Las Vegas charter school is one of the best programs — regardless of classification — the state has to offer. But because the program has only been in existence for three years, “nobody has been paying attention to us,” Banks said.

Somerset Losee this season has defeated established programs such as Canyon Springs and Sierra Vista. Both of its two losses have come against Class 5A Arbor View, and one of those defeats was by only five points.

Banks said the program had been enhanced by the school opening a weight room for its athletes, which has helped develop a noticeable level of strength in the players, Banks said. He credits football coach Dan Barnson for pushing the lifting program at the school.

“The weight room transitioned us to a better program. We weren’t going to get pushed around,” Banks said. “We put a lot of work in. Dan is great at what he does, and the kids have bought in.”

Junior guard Roderick Johnson leads the Lions in scoring at 18 points per game. He was the Most Valuable Player last month at the Las Vegas Prep Classic, Banks said.

They return virtually the same lineup from last season, meaning the likes of senior guard Christin Haylock, senior forward Malachi Richardson and senior guard KeSean White have the one trait many other teams will lack: postseason experience.

Many on the roster, in fact, were part of the program two seasons ago when the Lions reached the state tournament and lost to Elko.

“We have great chemistry because the kids have been playing together forever,” Banks said. “It’s a family environment. There’s no hate at Losee.”

Article written by #LasVegasSun