February 1, 2006 - A year ago, Max Worth was playing high school hoops in Indiana, the cradle of the basketball world; a place where the sport is as popular as it is almost mythical.

Flip the calendar forward one year and Worth now finds himself a stranger in an athletic landscape dominated by the likes of baseball and golf - sports foreign to the new Canyon Del Oro High School junior point guard.

"Just basketball," said Worth. "Back home all other sports are unknown except for maybe football; that's all I grew up around."

Behind the play of Worth, CDO fans are beginning to put off thoughts of the pending hardball season and have replaced the brokenhearted dreams of the state contending football squad with a new kind of playoff optimism. One hopefully delivered on the hardwood by a former Hoosier.

Worth transferred to the Oro Valley school after moving to the area in the summer. At Bloomington High school, located in central Indiana, Worth was a member of the 11-4 junior varsity squad before making the move to Arizona.

At CDO, he has found his niche in the backcourt, where the Dorados are getting maximum worth out of its new point guard. Head coach Nainesh Desai has paired the 5-foot, 10-inch Worth with fellow guard Tyler Grigsby to form a backcourt compliment of smooth passing with a scoring touch.

Through 24 games, Worth leads the 4A Sonoran in points, 406; steals, 60, and is second in assists, 107, according to Maxpreps.com. The guard is averaging 16.9 points per game overall and 20.4 in region play. Twice this season he has scored 31 points in a game, once against Desert View High School the other coming at home against Marana High School.

Those numbers are even more impressive to Desai in light of a nagging lower-body injury that has slowed the junior at times this season.

"Heart, work ethic and desire," said Desai, who is also a Midwest product hailing from basketball fertile Kansas. "He's got all of it."

Although the team needs to follow Worth's intensity on the court more consistently, said Desai, the Dorados (15-10 overall) have vaulted into first place in the 4A Sonoran, tying Rincon/University High School with a 6-1 region record.

That's quite a change for a team that won just one region game a year ago and finished last in the Class 5A Southern Region. One more region win this season will equal the amount of overall wins, 7, for the 2004-05 squad.

CDO may need to win the region in order to qualify for the state playoffs, despite its record. The Dorados sit at No. 19 in the power points. Only division winners and the subsequent top-16 in the power points make the state tourney.

"We've exceeded everyone's expectations," said Worth. "Everyone thought we were going to get blown out."

Worth attributes his success to his off-season workouts, and a regimen that gets him on the blacktop sometimes up to three times a day during the summer.

A self-described slasher to the hoop, Worth has been playing basketball since he was 2 years old practicing his dunks on a mini-hoop in his living room in Bloomington.

Bloomington is also the home of the University of Indiana and its storied basketball program. It was as a young child in Bloomington where Worth got to meet former Hoosier hall of fame - and oft maniacal - basketball coach Bobby Knight.

"I used to go over to his house and he'd used to talk about basketball when I was real young," said Worth, whose mother used to work for the former UI coach. "He showed my a lot. He would tell me to maintain a good attitude and strong head because that's one of the most important things in basketball.

"He's never really relaxed though," added Worth about Knight who now coaches at Texas Tech. "He's always got something on his mind, something to talk about, but for the most part it was fun."

If Worth can transfer some of Knight's advice to his teammates, big things could arise out of CDO this year and next.

The Dorados can't help to think ahead to 2006-07 when the current young team will then be among the most experienced in the league, even though there is plenty of basketball yet to be played this season.

Top region squads such as Rincon and Sabino High School are top-heavy with senior talent this season. CDO, conversely, starts two juniors, two sophomores and a senior.

If Worth ever needs a reminder of home he can call up Ironwood Ridge High School's Josh Johnson, a fellow former Hoosier from Muncie, Ind. and Nighthawk round-baller.

The CDO point guard plans on playing as long as he can, hopefully parlaying his high school accolades into a college career somewhere.

"It's like a lifestyle back home," said Worth of the only sport he's ever known. "It's what I really enjoy about it, it takes the worries away when you just relax and play the game."

Christopher Wuensch is a sports reporter for the EXPLORER. He can be reached at cwuensch@explorernews.com or at 797-4384, ext. 112.

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