Junior Dean Hendrix-Davis has been chosen captain of the Canyon boys basketball team.
After 12 years as the head boys basketball coach at Canyon High School, Chad Phillips stepped aside last season after capturing a share of his third Foothill League championship. His replacement? A former private investigator and six-year assistant coach with Cowboys basketball, Sean DeLong.
“I was very excited,” said DeLong when told he would be the new head coach. “Coaching with Chad for the last couple of years, I knew that his time was going to be ending. He had family to take care of and it’s a big deal to him. It was tough to see him go. But also, I think we both knew that I was ready for a challenge, ready to take over, and excited to go for the challenge.”
With Phillips staying on campus as a teacher, DeLong gets to talk basketball with him on a daily basis. Yet DeLong, a former player at Canyon, does bring his own style to the head coaching job.
“We both have a lot of passion,” DeLong said. “At times, I’m more passionate in (voicing what I want to say) or being demonstrative about it where Chad, over the last couple of years, has kind of mellowed and been more inner with it. In the games I’m the guy on the sidelines screaming, while he’s a lot more calm. So I’m trying to be a lot more like that, especially as a head coach. There’s so many more jobs to do. Your focus is kind of spread out and you just get so frustrated so much. But that’s mainly how we’re different.”
DeLong has to deal with the losses of two of the game’s most dynamic players last year, league MVP Coley Apsay and record-breaking scorer Clay Kasdorf. The team is senior heavy but with little varsity experience.
“What I think we have this year is a group of guys,” he said. “You can’t just take away one guy. Everybody plays within each other, they play together. So its more of a team atmosphere with guys contributing, scoring, that kind of stuff, where last year we leaned heavily on Coley and Clay. We don’t want to replace Coley but hopefully someday, we’ll get somebody like him. I love the guys we have in place now, too.”
The Cowboys are 10-5 this season and ranked fifth in the CIF Southern Section Division 2-AA poll. The success of this team moving forward may very well come down to the play of junior captain and returning varsity starter Dean Hendrix-Davis.
“Coming in your first year, you couldn’t be given more of a gift than coaching a player like Dean,” DeLong said. “Dean’s all energy. He loves the team, he loves the sport, and not just as a great basketball player, but he’s such a good human being, and he’s the leader of this team for a reason. As a junior, I couldn’t put more things on his shoulder than I have. He handles it and he includes everybody on the team. I mean, one of the reasons we’re going to be successful is because of Dean and his energy. For Philips to leave that for me and Dean to stay here, I’m blessed to coach him. I really am.”
“I had Coley and Clay to teach me the ropes of how to be a leader and how to fill those roles and how to show the team what to do,” Hendrix-Davis said. “I feel like it’s going to be a great season. We always play our hardest and do our best here at Canyon, you’re always going to get our best here. I feel like we’re going to work hard, just do what we can to push and strive for 20 wins.”
But of course, one player cannot carry a basketball team alone.
“One of our other captains, his name is Park McKenzie,” DeLong said. “He was on varsity last year, not a lot of minutes, but this year he has really sold out to the team and become a leader. Mark Cabrera is a junior, played for us last year, had a couple big shots against Hart. He’s going to play a lot of multiple roles for us. He’s kind of filling in for Clay in that respect. He’s not as finely tuned but he will be, I believe. He works really hard on his game.”
Coming off a share of the league championship and three consecutive 20-plus win seasons, DeLong is realistic when it comes to predicting the upcoming season.
“Our goal, realistically, we’re trying to figure out what we are and what we can be,” he said. “Wins at the varsity level are so tough, but we just want to compete every game. We believe we’re going to be in every game, find ways to win at the end, and we truly believe that we’re going to compete like we have the last couple of years and hopefully be at the end competing for a league title. There’s so many other tough teams in the league, but we want to be there, having a say in the end.”