Stationed in the middle of a fray of teenagers in alternating white and blue tank tops racing up and down the floor of the auxiliary gym at Ironwood Ridge High School is first-year Nighthawks coach Le’Sean Marks, who has a stopwatch in one hand and a whistle in the other.
Marks is tasked with the monumental job of getting the Nighthawks back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. He knows that his players want to do better than last year’s 6-21 season which players label an embarrassment.
Marks, who previously worked as the track and field coach at the northside high school, believes these offseason conditioning drills are the first step in building a winning mentality at the school.
Luckily for the young men of Ironwood Ridge, the former Hamilton High School and Arizona Christian University point guard knows what it takes to win.
The key to finding continued success for Marks rests in his team’s ability to trust one another, which is why he sets hard time constraints for each of his players’ drills.
It’s simple matters, like completing a set of sprints in 30 seconds flat, that builds character and conditioning for the slog of the high school season.
“The first thing we have to do is, we’ve got to play together,” Marks said. “When we can get team unity better, when we can play together, that’s when things will shift. That’s when things will get better for us, and No. 2 is, we got to give 100 percent effort the whole time. Every time we play the game, we have to give our all, and it starts right here in practice.”
Marks’ hard-knock style of coaching has made a mark on the team’s most-experienced players, like senior guard Rian Palma.
“I like it, because he’s a lot harder, and pushes a lot more,” Palma said. “He wants the best out of us, every single one of us. It helps us bond more as a team.”
Marks has been impressed by the commitment he’s seen from his players in preseason practice. Such a response is rare, Marks said, given his entirely new coaching staff, combined with the added demands given to players.
Junior guard Trey Cox believes that Marks and his staff have already established a level of respect that past regimes have ignored. Such a commitment to team-first basketball has made the game fun again for Cox, who expects to man the point guard position this season.
“It’s not just basketball,” Cox said. “[Le’Sean] really takes part in our lives with everything outside of school. He tutors us, seeing if we need help. He’s a pastor at a church, he prays for us before every game, and we just love him. He’s a great guy.”
Marks and his team kick off the regular season with a home game against district rival Canyon del Oro on Thursday, Nov. 29.
Marks is keeping expectations grounded, with a goal of reaching the .500 mark and making a play for a playoff berth this season.
He believes his players have the camaraderie and skill to surprise their opponents this season and is excited to watch them take to the hardwood.
“We can do it with our schedule, and so for us it’s discipline,” Marks said. “It’s stuff like this when we’re running sprints, touching the line. Integrity. Our core values and our principals.”